By Benjamin Gohs
Boyne City’s Trail Town Master Plan has been officially approved with a Boyne City Commission vote of 3-1.
The Trail Town concept’s specific purpose is to aid communities in the development and monetization of recreational trails.
“I’m overwhelmed by how cool this is and I’m overwhelmed by the economic opportunity that we have,” said Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer. “This is just one more tool in our toolbox to make Boyne City a special place to be.”
Boyne City Commissioner Derek Gaylord—the only “no” vote—reiterated his belief that bringing tourists and potential new residents into the area is a good thing but expressed concerns with signing onto a Trail Town Master Plan that may obligate the city to certain unspecified requirements in the future.
“I’m not opposed to the concept and the understanding of … the potential economic impact,” Gaylord said… “My objection is with being labeled this ‘Trail Town’ and have to follow some specific guidelines beyond our common sense.”
The 77-page plan was ultimately adopted as-is.
“Through a grant from the Charlevoix (County) Community Foundation and the Frey Foundation the Land Information Access Association (LIAA is a Traverse City non-profit) has facilitated the creation of a Trail Town Master Plan for the purpose of capturing the potential for trail-based tourism in both Boyne City and Boyne Falls,” said Boyne City Assistant Planner Annie Doyle, during the recent presentation of the master plan to the Boyne City Commission. “Although this plan has been only in development for less than a year, it is representative of the long-term commitment our community has to the recreational trails throughout the city and around the region.”
The Trail Town Master Plan had previously been presented to Boyne City’s Parks & Recreation Commission, Planning Commission, Main Street Program Board—all of whom recommended the plan for adoption.
“What is a Trail Town?” said LIAA Planner Harry Burkholder, who presented the master plan on Tuesday Sept. 23, which also happened to be during Michigan Trails Week. “It’s a destination like a long-distance trail. Whether on a rail trail, towpath, water trail, or hiking trail. It’s a place where trail users can venture off the trail to enjoy the scenery, services, and heritage of the nearby community with its own character and charm. It is a safe place where both town residents and trail users can walk, find goods and services they need, and easily access both trail and town by foot or vehicle. In such a town, the trail is an integral and important part of the community.”
He added, “It’s that last line that really means something. So these are communities that understand they have an asset in their backyard or in their region that is coming by foot or by bike or by other means and they are bringing with themselves dollars to spend.”
Burkholder said Trail Towns work together at the local level and the governmental level in order to make the most of their assets.
“It is important for local leaders in Boyne City and Boyne Falls and officials from Boyne Mountain Resort to understand that most Trail Towns are not isolated communities; they are linked together by the trail, creating a regional destination for
residents, trail users and tourists. Long-distance trails tend to be used by people seeking a day-long excursion, but some may be on the trail for multiple days,” it states in the report. “Most users will require some degree of goods and services. Long-distance trails attract tourists, especially trails that pass by interesting towns, scenic areas or places of historic interest.”
It further states, “Studies show that the longer the trail, the farther people will come to use it, the longer people will stay, and the more they will spend. A day-tripper will spend four times as much as a local user, and an overnight visitor will spend twice the amount a day-tripper will spend.”
The Trail Town concept is based on the Great Allegheny Passage, which is a more than 300-mile system of trails that connects Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh, Penn.
“All these folks come into their communities, either by bike or by hiking, and so they kind of got together and said, ‘Are we providing the goods and services that these trail tourists want? Do we have a community where people want to actually visit and go on vacation and visit these trails?'” Burkholder said. “So, they started thinking about what goods and services they offer, how well do their recreation amenities meet what their expectations are for hiking and biking trails.”
Burkholder said maximizing income from trail-based tourism is not an exact science.
“The bottom line is there is an impact,” he said. “People are coming to your community for trail tourism.”
Burkholder added, “As much as this program is about trails and recreation, it’s also about downtown economic development.”
According to Burkholder, there were seven cities designated as “Trail Towns” in Michigan, with Northern Michigan leading the way as Alpena, Atlanta, Grayling, Mackinaw City and Topinabee each have Trail Town plans. Charlevoix is also working on developing a plan.
Economic Impact According to a 2006 Active Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, the annual average biking-related spending by participant equaled:
• Number of day trips: 7
• Average spending per day trip: $37
• Number of overnight trips: 8
• Average spending per overnight trip: $218
• Retail sales for gear: $77
According to the report, bicycle tourism supports more than $900 million in tourism and residential spending each year.
Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch was absent from the meeting.