Paddlers Bring Business to the Northern Forest
Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Collaborate in New Ways, Focus on Customer Potential
Type of attraction: Main Street/Community
Summary: When the nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail was created in 2000, organizers set as the mission connecting people to the natural environment, human heritage and contemporary communities.
When the nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) was created in 2000, organizers set as the mission connecting people to the natural environment, human heritage and contemporary communities along the 740-mile inland paddling trail tracing historic travel routes across New York, Vermont, Québec, New Hampshire and Maine. The first step was developing relationships with small businesses along the route. “It is important to us to have visitor dollars go to our small, rural business partners,” says Kate Williams, executive director. “An online location where we could make businesses and services available to interested paddlers and visitors seemed like a critical tool to create.”
NFCT launched its Trip Planner in 2007, featuring a growing list of businesses categorized by the service they offer and their locations along the water trail route. In 2008 and 2009, USDA Rural Development grants enabled NFCT to further enhance the listings and to create packages and itineraries in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. These tourism products are organized around themes (e.g. wildlife or heritage) and highlight local dining, shopping and lodging. Packages and itineraries can be day trips or multi-day and offer a variety of activities in addition to paddling, such as hiking, swimming, watching wildlife and enjoying educational programs. As the promotion continues, the NFCT is working with the University of New Hampshire to gather data on visitor demographics as well as gathering feedback on their experiences.
To meet the mission of stewardship, and to offer an opportunity to visitors who want to combine a little work with their vacation, NFCT created Waterway Work Trips. NFCT selects sites along the route that are in need of work and designs three-day trips that include trail maintenance along with paddling. Participants pay a small fee to cover the cost of food and bring their own camping and paddling gear. Interns prep the site and are on hand to supervise participants’ work. “This program has been well received,” Williams says. “It engages people who are willing to volunteer their time, roll up their sleeves, and help steward the trail.”
Through careful planning and building strong partnerships, “we have been solid through the economic downturn,” Williams says. “An important part is a diverse funding base. We get relatively small donations from a lot of people rather than relying on one big grant. One thing we have found is that our mission, which includes economic development, has served us well at a time when funding to assist small businesses continues to be available. Connecting the mission and with very practical work is key.”