New grant monies have become available for economic development along the Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail, along with other regional trail networks, through the Progress Fund’s Trail Town Program.

Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Community Development Initiative awarded a $140,000 grant to implement the Trail Town Program’s “Six Services” over the next two years. Those services include business assistance and development, marketing, economic research, community connections, real estate development and small business loans.

The recent grant enables the Trail Town Program to apply these services to 19 rural communities across the “Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition” region to network and leverage resources in trail tourism and revitalization.

Among the communities eligible for the grant money are Titusville, Oil City, Franklin, Emlenton and Foxburg, along the Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail (EPT).

Several communities along the Great Allegheny Passage, the Trans-Allegheny Trails, and the Sheepskin Trail are also eligible. These communities have taken the initial steps by completing their Trail Town Assessments.

The city of Franklin has already seen an impact.

Ronnie Beith, Franklin events coordinator, said, “Franklin has been striving to be more bicycle friendly for years, and now the Trail Town Program has helped us to refocus and refine our efforts. [There has been] an increase in traffic from the trail head to our downtown, and we look forward to welcoming more new visitors as we continue to increase accessibility for cyclists.”

Titusville City Council adopted its Trail Town Master Plan in 2013 — a long-range plan document to focus the city’s efforts to become more trail-user friendly.

In Meyersdale, along the Great Allegheny Passage, a similar plan has done positive things for the community.

“The community has come together to accomplish many large and small projects,” said Sharon K. Ackerman, board of directors of the Meyersdale Merchants Association. “The Trail Town Program is dedicated to creating an atmosphere where businesses can flourish.”

On Monday, USDA Under Secretary Lisa Mensah announced the selection of 31 community-based organizations in 17 states and the District of Columbia for grants to help small rural communities create jobs and boost economic development.

“These grants bring increased economic opportunities to rural residents and communities by strengthening the capacity of the regional organizations that serve them,” said Mensah. “They help organizations that are experienced in economic development create more job opportunities for rural residents. The Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) grants are an important part of the USDA’s ongoing efforts to address rural poverty. They help boost growth in our most economically vulnerable rural communities.”

The USDA is awarding $6.3 million in grants to 31 projects in Monday’s announcement.

In Pennsylvania, the Trail Town Program received a $140,000 grant to identify and create opportunities for small towns and businesses to take advantage of the trail tourism market for economic development, business growth and revitalization efforts.

Travel and tourism is the state’s second largest industry, providing more than 470,000 jobs.

The ultimate goal of the Trail Town Program, according to a press release, is to establish corridors of revitalized communities by facilitating development of the 21 Trail Towns.

The Trail Town Program’s grant will allow for the opening of new businesses, expansion of current businesses, renovation of properties for new business opportunities, and Trail Town Summits to be held each year, the USDA said.

David Kahley, president and CEO of The Progress Fund, said, “The towns along the trail will be excited to learn of the USDA’s support on this project.”

For more information, contact Will Prince, Trail Town Program manager, at (724) 216-9160, ext 318, or by email, at wprince@progressfund.org.

Anyone can also sign up to receive Trail Town news, at trailtowns.org.

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