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 National Recreation Economic Data page.
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.
- Creating 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.
- Working with the community to develop 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.
Recreation Economy for Rural Communities is sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the Northern Border Regional Commission, the Appalachian Regional Commission and EPA. (Links open in new browser tab or window.)
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.
Applying for assistance
The most recent call for applications for assistance closed on Nov. 22, 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.
2022 Partner Communities
Twenty-five communities were selected as partners for Recreation Economy for Rural Communities planning assistance in 2022:
- Akwesasne, New York: The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and partners are bringing 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. The RERC process will aid in developing the region’s rich natural and cultural resources to strengthen the local economy and grow opportunities around the outdoor recreation economy and nature-based tourism while improving outdoor amenities.
- Bangor, Maine: The Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau and partners would like to market, promote, and connect nearby outdoor recreation assets, including the Penobscot River, to Bangor’s downtown assets; to create opportunities for local business growth; and to attract visitors and residents to the city. The local steering committee 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 would like 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 would like to reinvest in Main Street infrastructure and businesses; build on the city’s historic and outdoor amenities; and boost connections and accessibility to link outdoor recreation visitors directly to downtown. Brunswick is a growing community and wants to use the RERC planning assistance process to reinvest in Main Street, clean up and rehabilitate vacant buildings, and provide easy access to its abundant natural resources, restoring the vibrant beauty of its once-bustling downtown for visitors and the community.
- Buchanan, Virginia: The town of Buchanan and partners would like to plan for pedestrian and bike connectivity to nearby residential neighborhoods, the Appalachian Trail, the Upper James River Blueway, and the U.S. Bicentennial Bicycle Route; make improvements to Main Street; support small businesses in the outdoor recreation sector of the economy; and connect the town to the river, mountains, and nearby trails in the region.
- Buena Vista, Virginia: The city of Buena Vista and partners would like to maximize the impact of their centerpiece local park, Glen Maury Park, to better connect it to downtown and to surrounding recreational assets such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail. The city also seeks to maximize the use of its campground and event venue for this same purpose.
- Butte, Montana: The City-County of Butte-Silver Bow and partners would like to build on their vibrant and growing trail network, to better connect this network of trails to Butte’s Main Street district, and to strengthen economic development opportunities through the outdoor recreation economy. This project will complement local Superfund cleanup activities that are currently winding down after a decades-long effort 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.
- Clairfield, Tennessee: The Woodland Community Land Trust and partners would like to bring 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.
- Claremont, New Hampshire: The city of Claremont’s Parks and Recreation and Planning and Development departments and other partners would like 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 will explore and include many recreation assets, including EPA brownfield remediation and brownfields assessment projects currently underway downtown.
- Columbiana, Alabama: The city of Columbiana and partners would like increase visitation to existing assets and expand their recreational amenities by connecting them with the downtown area through a walkway and bike trail. This common space would encourage all residents to participate in city events and engage the community in city projects. This project goes beyond Columbiana itself to include other Main Street communities in Shelby County, Alabama, and fits within the city’s other asset development work.
- Coshocton, Ohio: The city of Coshocton and partners would like to boost river-based activities, build on existing recreational resources such as a large aquatic center with campgrounds, develop additional trails for hiking and all-terrain vehicles, and connect these activities to downtown Coshocton.
- Fairfield County, South Carolina: Fairfield County and partners would like to connect its communities with existing state parks and lakes and to the statewide Palmetto Trail, to ensure that local residents know about and can access these outdoor amenities, to draw visitors to the area, and to support tourism in their downtown communities. This project will work 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 would like to plan for and leverage the increased visitation to the region that is resulting from the establishment of the New River Gorge National Park nearby, engage in inclusive community tourism development and planning, increase local access to outdoor recreation, and cultivate a culture of wellness in the community.
- Granville, New York: The village of Granville and partners would like to make connections between the multi-state Slate Valley Rail Trail and the Mettawee River with their Main Street and cultural campus, which includes the Slate Valley Museum and the Pember Library and Museum of Natural History. The village would like to clean up and repurpose vacant storefronts on Granville’s Main Street to revitalize their downtown and support the growing recreation economy and would like to enhance walkability and build 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 would like to position 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; boost downtown amenities such as restaurants and lodging; and improve equitable access to outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors alike. The local steering committee plans to engage the primarily Latino population, to boost economic opportunity and improve health outcomes for residents, to revitalize existing buildings in need of clean-up, to conserve important coastal species, and to provide alternative transportation options for residents.
- Haines, Alaska: The Haines Economic Development Corporation and partners would like 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 including lodging options for tourists, and install wayfinding so that visitors and residents alike may access these resources. The local steering committee would like to focus on balancing the need to maintain the working landscape while also 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 would like to leverage the city’s access to the third largest lake in the Southeast by building a connecting trail to the historic downtown area, increasing connections between the lake and downtown, and supporting agrotourism and outdoor recreation.
- Jenkins, Kentucky: The city of Jenkins and partners would like to increase access to existing hiking opportunities and work to clean up and revitalize the downtown area’s signage and sidewalks to increase visitation and tourism to the area.
- Marshfield, Vermont: The town of Marshfield and partners would like to market the town’s recreational opportunities to visitors, expand local business opportunities in the village, reroute portions of the Cross Vermont Trail onto an old railroad bed, and foster outdoor recreation activities in all four seasons. The town would also like to engage residents that are not normally involved in planning discussions so that all may benefit from outdoor recreation opportunities.
- McKee, Kentucky: The McKee Trail Town Committee and partners would like to market and brand the community as a recreation hub, connect to the surrounding Daniel Boone National Forest and regional trails, and diversify their economy while revitalizing downtown.
- Monte Vista, Colorado: San Luis Valley Great Outdoors (SLV GO!), the city of Monte Vista, and partners would like to boost equitable access to outdoor recreation for residents, increase tourism opportunities that tie into local assets like the annual Sandhill Crane Festival, and strengthen Main Street revitalization and small business development efforts in downtown Monte Vista. The local steering committee would like to connect the community to local recreation opportunities in nearby parks and trails as well as on surrounding public lands for the Monte Vista community, improving public health by getting people outside and active.
- Salamanca, New York: The Seneca Nation would like to plan 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 will include, but will not be limited to, improving bike and hiking trails, river and lake access, and connections to downtown Salamanca.
- South Point, Ohio: The Lawrence County Convention and Visitors Bureau and partners would like to improve their trail systems and boat docks to showcase the natural resources in the area, connect to the nearby Wayne National Forest, and support the development of local businesses and marketing of Main Street activities. Having additional outdoor amenities will provide access to clean, green space for health and wellness for community members and visitors alike.
- Quincy, California: Local organizations including Plumas County, Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, the Quincy Chamber of Commerce, and many more are working together to support equitable access to trails and outdoor recreation assets, to collaborate with and uplift tribal partners in outdoor recreation and tourism activities, to increase the vibrancy of downtown Quincy, to support business and economic development in the outdoor recreation sector, and to increase affordable and accessible housing opportunities for all. All of these activities are in the context of boosting recovery and resilience efforts for communities in the county that were affected by wildfires, fostering sustainable management of forests and other resources, and increasing access to trails to improve public health.
- Yreka, California: The Siskiyou Economic Development Council and partners are working 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 make it easier for residents and visitors alike to access alternative modes of transportation, improving public health.
- Biden-Harris Administration to Help Rural Communities Grow Outdoor Recreation Economy, press release, Aug. 17, 2022
2019 Partner Communities
Ten communities were selected as partners for 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.