Recreation Economy for Rural Communities
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, and so many communities are seeking to grow their outdoor recreation economy and tourism, while investing in their main streets and conserving forests and natural lands. Encouraging growth on main streets while promoting outdoor recreation can help foster community revitalization, protect air and water quality, create jobs and support economic diversification, and offer new opportunities for people to connect with the natural world.
On this page:
- Applying for Assistance
- Partner Communities
On other pages:
- EPA's Perspectives Blog: Read the inspiring view of the RERC program manager in her blog post, "How Community-Led Change is Helping Rural Places and People Thrive."
- Smart Growth in Small Towns and Rural Communities: Additional information about how smart growth strategies can help rural places strengthen their economies, improve quality of life, and protect the environment and human health.
Recognizing that outdoor recreation is a large and growing sector of the economy nationwide, the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program was formed in 2019 to provide planning assistance to small towns and rural communities to help them boost their outdoor recreation economy and revitalize their main streets. The program is a partnership between EPA's Office of Community Revitalization, the USDA Forest Service, the Northern Border Regional Commission, and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Some communities already have a robust outdoor recreation economy and are trying to develop their in-town amenities and create community consensus on the stewardship of natural resources and outdoor assets. Other communities are at the earlier stages of developing their recreation economies and are considering how they can harness its potential to revitalize their main streets, attract visitors and new residents, and ensure all residents are equitably involved in the planning efforts.
The RERC planning assistance process involves developing a local steering committee in each partner community and pairing them with a team of federal agency partners and consultants, who then work with the community over several months. The team supports the steering committee to identify the community's vision, goals, and actions they wish to take to boost outdoor recreation, revitalize their main streets, and promote equitable access to the outdoors for residents and visitors alike. The process involves several planning calls, a community workshop, and several follow-up implementation calls. Through the planning process, all partner communities develop a Community Action Plan, which identifies specific actions and next steps.
The most recent call for applications for assistance closed in 2021. The call for applications is here for reference only. This website will be updated when there is a new call for communities to apply for future rounds of the RERC program. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive notifications about upcoming rounds of assistance.
If you have questions about the program or past application processes, please read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Recreation Economy for Rural Communities.
To date, thirty-five communities have received Recreation Economy for Rural Communities planning assistance. Communities who participated in the program have implemented several strategies to build their outdoor recreation economy and strengthen their main streets, including:
- 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.
- Gorham, New Hampshire: Since its community workshop and planning process ended, the community of Gorham has been capitalizing on nearby outdoor amenities, like the White Mountain National Forests and Androscoggin River, and downtown assets like local cafes and art galleries, to draw visitors and residents.
- 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.
Twenty-five communities received planning assistance from 2022 to 2023:
- Akwesasne, New York: The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and partners brought the Tribal community together to build on the Tribe's cultural tourism, economic development, and infrastructure strategies. Some of those developments include a new heritage center, an art gallery, and the creation of green park spaces along the St. Regis River located in downtown Akwesasne.
- Bangor, Maine: The Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau and partners focused on marketing, promoting, and connecting nearby outdoor recreation assets to Bangor’s downtown assets; creating opportunities for local business growth; and attracting visitors and residents to the city. The local steering committee made plans to develop environmentally friendly green space, additional areas for new water access, and new walking trails to foster sustainable land management, boost water quality, and improve residents’ health.
- Beverly, Ohio: The village of Beverly and partners planned to create a multi-use trail in the village to allow people to safely bike and walk, with the long-term goal of connecting the trail to the Marietta River Trail, which would link the community to other local recreational assets.
- Brunswick, Maryland: The city of Brunswick and partners focused on reinvesting in Main Street infrastructure and businesses, including vacant buildings; building on the city’s historic and outdoor amenities; and boosting connections and accessibility to link outdoor recreation visitors directly to downtown.
- Buchanan, Virginia: The town of Buchanan and partners planned for enhanced pedestrian and bike connectivity to residential neighborhoods, the Appalachian Trail, the Upper James River Blueway, and the U.S. Bicentennial Bicycle Route; making improvements to Main Street; supporting small businesses in the outdoor recreation sector; and connecting the town to the river, mountains, and nearby trails in the region.
- Buena Vista, Virginia: The city of Buena Vista and partners planned for improving the impact of their centerpiece local park, Glen Maury Park, as well as its campground and event venue and discussed strategies to connect these resources to downtown and to surrounding recreational assets, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail.
- Butte, Montana: The City-County of Butte-Silver Bow and partners identified plans to build on their vibrant and growing trail network and better connect it to Butte’s Main Street district, strengthening economic development opportunities. This project will complement local Superfund cleanup activities to address historical mine contamination in and around one of the nation’s largest historic landmark districts and will help provide connections to trails and other transportation options that will support land conservation and improve public health.
- Claremont, New Hampshire: The city of Claremont’s Parks and Recreation and Planning and Development departments and other partners planned to connect the city’s Main Street revitalization efforts with recreation assets nearby, including local parks and forests, the riverfront, and a growing trail network. This project explored and included many recreation assets, including EPA brownfield remediation and brownfields assessment projects downtown.
- Clearfork Valley, Tennessee: The Woodland Community Land Trust and partners brought stakeholders together to plan to diversify the recreation economy in an area that holds great potential for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rail trails, while also cleaning up abandoned mines and brownfield sites for reuse.
- Columbiana, Alabama: The city of Columbiana and partners discussed increased visitation to existing assets, expanding recreational amenities by connecting them with the downtown area through a walkway and bike trail, and expanding community engagement in Columbiana and surrounding communities in Shelby County, Alabama.
- Coshocton, Ohio: The city of Coshocton and partners focused on boosting river-based activities, building on recreational resources such as a large aquatic center with campgrounds, developing additional multi-use trails, and connecting these activities to downtown Coshocton.
- Fairfield County, South Carolina: Fairfield County and partners planned for connecting the County's communities with existing state parks and lakes and to the statewide Palmetto Trail, to enhance local residents' knowledge and access, as well as to draw tourists and visitors to the area. The County is working towards ensuring equitable access to the outdoors and increasing physical activity to improve health and well-being for all Fairfield County residents, including the majority African American population.
- Fayetteville, West Virginia: The town of Fayetteville and partners planned for managing the increased visitation to the region that is resulting from the establishment of the New River Gorge National Park nearby, which presents an opportunity to engage in inclusive community tourism development and planning, increase local access to outdoor recreation, and cultivate a culture of wellness.
- Granville, New York: The village of Granville and partners planned for making connections between the multi-state Slate Valley Rail Trail and the Mettawee River with their Main Street and cultural campus. The village discussed strategies for strengthening Granville’s Main Street, enhancing walkability, and building new bike and kayak rental opportunities to boost residents’ health and to reduce the environmental impact of transportation.
- Guadalupe, California: Los Amigos de Guadalupe and partners focused on positioning downtown Guadalupe as the “Gateway to the Dunes” by connecting Main Street to the nearby Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve, and Oso Flaco Lake. They also discussed boosting downtown amenities and improving equitable access to outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors alike. The local steering committee focused on engaging the primarily Latino population, boosting economic opportunity, revitalizing existing buildings, conserving important coastal species, and providing alternative transportation options for residents.
- Haines, Alaska: The Haines Economic Development Corporation and partners explored how to better connect Haines’s awe-inspiring natural assets with the community’s waterfront and downtown, improve transportation and trails infrastructure, boost outdoor recreation amenities, and install wayfinding. The local steering committee focused on balancing the need to maintain the working landscape while conserving key natural resources and on engaging and empowering Alaskan native communities, including Klukwan and the Chilkoot Indian Association.
- Hartwell, Georgia: The city of Hartwell and partners planned to leverage the city’s access to the third largest lake in the Southeast by increasing connections between the lake and downtown and supporting agrotourism and outdoor recreation.
- Jenkins, Kentucky: The city of Jenkins and partners explored creating new hiking, biking, and disc golf opportunities; beautifying the downtown area to increase visitation and tourism; and expanding local anchor community assets.
- Lawrence County, Ohio: The Lawrence County Convention and Visitors Bureau and partners focused on improving their trail systems and boat docks to showcase the natural resources in the area, connecting to the nearby Wayne National Forest, and supporting the development of local businesses and marketing of Main Street activities.
- Marshfield, Vermont: The town of Marshfield and partners explored marketing the town’s recreational opportunities to visitors, expanding local business opportunities in the village, enhancing linkages of the Cross Vermont Trail, and fostering outdoor recreation activities in all four seasons. The town would engaged residents not normally involved in planning discussions so that all may benefit from outdoor recreation opportunities.
- McKee, Kentucky: The McKee Trail Town Committee and partners planned for marketing the community as a recreation hub; enhancing connectivity to the surrounding Daniel Boone National Forest and regional trails; diversifying the local economy while revitalizing downtown; and inclusively engaging the community, including youth, in the implementation process.
- Monte Vista, Colorado: San Luis Valley Great Outdoors (SLV GO!), the city of Monte Vista, and partners focused on boosting equitable access to outdoor recreation for residents, increasing tourism opportunities that tie into local assets like the annual Sandhill Crane Festival, and strengthening Main Street revitalization and small business development efforts.
- Salamanca, New York: The Seneca Nation focused on how to spur the tourism market of the Nation’s waterways, the diverse talents of Native artists, and the significant cultural opportunities that abound within the Seneca Nation’s Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Oil Spring Territories and throughout the region. This initiative included improving bike and hiking trails, river and lake access, and connections to downtown Salamanca.
- Quincy, California: Local organizations including Plumas County, Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, the Quincy Chamber of Commerce, and many more worked together to support equitable access to trails and outdoor recreation assets to improve public health, collaborate with and uplift tribal partners in outdoor recreation and tourism activities, increase the vibrancy of downtown Quincy, support business and economic development, and increase affordable and accessible housing opportunities. These activities are grounded in the County's resilience and recovery efforts, including sustainable management of forests and other resources, following wildfires.
- Yreka, California: The Siskiyou Economic Development Council and partners worked together to grow Yreka’s downtown amenities; enhance physical connections to access outdoor recreation; inspire community pride and identity in the city’s natural, recreational, cultural, and historic assets; and invest in businesses and entrepreneurs that support the outdoor recreation sector. This project will support alternative transportation infrastructure and downtown improvements, that will improve accessibility and public health.
- Biden-Harris Administration to Help Rural Communities Grow Outdoor Recreation Economy, press release, Aug. 17, 2022
Ten communities received planning assistance from 2019 to 2021:
- Cambridge, New York: The village of Cambridge and partners planned to make the new Cambridge Community Forest safely accessible to residents and visitors and connect it with other green spaces, recreational and cultural amenities, and businesses. They also promoted smart downtown development.
- Fryeburg, Maine: The town of Fryeberg, working with 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: Giles County and partners 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: The city of Glenwood Springs 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: The town of Gorham planned new, environmentally-friendly uses along the Androscoggin River to better connect downtown with the river and its assets.
- Grants, New Mexico: The city of Grants and partners 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: Jasper Main Street and partners connected Main Street to nearby lakes and waterways, made it easier to walk and bike to and from downtown, and became a trail town for the Bankhead National Forest.
- John Day, Oregon: The city of John Day and partners diversified its economy by growing outdoor recreation. They are accomplishing this through the clean up and reuse of a riverfront former industrial site and developing hotels and new outdoor recreation enterprises in town.
- Poultney, Vermont: The town of Poultney and partners 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: The Sanders County Community Development Corporation, Thompson Falls Main Street, and partners developed marketing strategies, partnerships, and wayfinding signage to attract visitors and promote local amenities and public lands for both visitors and residents.