Recreation Economy for Rural Communities
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The Recreation Economy for Rural Communities planning assistance program helps communities identify strategies to grow their outdoor recreation economy and revitalize their Main Streets.
Outdoor activities are increasingly popular across the United States. Recognizing this trend, many communities are seeking to grow their outdoor recreation and tourism economy, invest in their Main Streets, and conserve forests and other natural lands. Encouraging growth on Main Streets and in existing neighborhoods while promoting outdoor recreation can help foster community revitalization, protect air and water quality, create jobs, support economic growth and diversification, and offer new opportunities for people to connect with the natural world. For more information on the outdoor recreation economy, visit the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable’s summary.
Activities that can foster environmentally friendly community development and Main Street revitalization through conservation and sustainable use of public or private forests or other natural resources include:
- Ensuring local residents, including young people, have connections and opportunities related to nearby outdoor assets to foster community pride, good stewardship, and local economic benefits.
- Developing or expanding trail networks to attract overnight visitors and new businesses and foster use by local residents.
- Developing in-town amenities, such as broadband service; electric vehicle charging stations; housing; or shops, restaurants, or breweries, to serve residents and attract new visitors and residents with an interest in nearby outdoor assets.
- Marketing Main Street as a gateway to nearby natural lands to capture and amplify outdoor recreation dollars.
- Developing a community consensus on the management of outdoor assets to reduce potential conflicts and ensure sustainable use of resources.
- Ensuring that all residents and visitors, particularly those who have not historically been engaged in outdoor recreation and Main Street revitalization efforts, have equitable access to and can benefit from the growing outdoor recreation economy.
For example, communities who participated in the pilot round of Recreation Economy for Rural Communities have implemented several strategies to build their outdoor recreation economy and strengthen their Main Streets:
- Glenwood Springs, Colorado: Following the community workshop and planning process, the community secured grants from the state of Colorado and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable to engage and expand opportunities for all residents, including the growing Latinx community, to access outdoor recreation assets in and around the city. Glenwood Springs has also been working to increase affordable housing, ensure the sustainable management of popular outdoor recreation amenities, and recover from the impacts of the COVID pandemic and a wildfire.
- Jasper, Alabama: Since the workshop, Jasper has been working to integrate its Main Street revitalization efforts with its outdoor recreation assets, including Walker County Lake, a series of water trails, and the nearby Bankhead National Forest. Jasper has been expanding access to recreation assets to improve residents’ health and is becoming a trail town with a vibrant Main Street and connected natural amenities that draw more visitors to the community.
- Poultney, Vermont: Poultney lost a major employer and community anchor when Green Mountain College closed its doors in 2019. Poultney is currently building back even better by exploring how outdoor recreation can help diversify the economy and strengthen Main Street businesses. Poultney is taking advantage of the nearby natural beauty and recreational resources, including a growing network of trails, to involve residents in outdoor recreation and to draw new visitors to the community.
If you have questions about the program or the application process, please read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Recreation Economy for Rural Communities.
See our Smart Growth in Small Towns and Rural Communities page to learn more about how smart growth strategies can help rural places strengthen their economies, improve quality of life, and protect the environment and human health.
EPA, the USDA Forest Service, and the Northern Border Regional Commission invite communities to apply for the next round of Recreation Economy for Rural Communities assistance. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 22, 2021. Read the call for applications and learn how to apply.
2019 Partner Communities
Ten communities were selected as partners in the inaugural round of Recreation Economy for Rural Communities planning assistance:
- Cambridge, New York, made the new Cambridge Community Forest safely accessible to residents and visitors; connected it with other green spaces, recreational and cultural amenities, and businesses; and promoted smart downtown development.
- Fryeburg, Maine, with partners Southern Maine Planning and Economic Development Commission and Fryeburg Academy, connected nearby outdoor recreation assets to growing opportunities for the Main Street business community.
- Giles County, Virginia, worked with the USDA Forest Service to manage and use Cascades Falls and other natural assets to attract residents and visitors to downtown Pembroke, Narrows, and other communities in the county.
- Glenwood Springs, Colorado, promoted a whole-community discussion about Hanging Lake, a popular nearby National Natural Landmark, including how to better integrate shuttle service into the historic downtown, and housing affordability needs.
- Gorham, New Hampshire, planned new, environmentally friendly uses along the Androscoggin River to better connect downtown Gorham with the river and its assets.
- Grants, New Mexico, worked to increase the number of residents and visitors enjoying its forests and natural lands, build new trail connections, boost downtown amenities, and increase recreation-related economic opportunities.
- Jasper, Alabama, connected Main Street to nearby lakes and waterways, made it easier for people to walk and bike to and from downtown, and became a trail town for the Bankhead National Forest.
- John Day, Oregon, diversified its economy by growing outdoor recreation, including by cleaning up and reusing a riverfront former industrial site and developing hotels and new outdoor recreation enterprises in town.
- Poultney, Vermont, spotlighted its recreation assets, encouraged more residents and visitors to participate in recreation, connected nearby hiking-biking trails to downtown, and worked to attract new recreation-economy investors.
- Thompson Falls, Montana, developed marketing strategies, partnerships, and wayfinding signage to attract visitors and promote local amenities and public lands for both visitors and residents.