As we look ahead to activities to move the Rock River Trail forward, it is instructive to reflect on the vision for the trail initiative as adopted in 2012. “The Rock River Trail Initiative envisions a commonality of interests in and respect for the Rock River that will result in active participation by a diverse and growing number of residents and visitors in recreational trails and transportation routes on and along the river, revitalized and prosperous river communities on a clean river and the enjoyment and appreciation by all of the scenic beauty, natural resources and historic and cultural assets of the Rock River Valley.”
Eloquent words, but what do they mean in practical terms? The four legs of the Rock River Trail stool — paddle, drive, bike and hike — have been established. The fourth and final trail logo that will be used to mark the hiking routes has been developed. Mapping of the trails is complete, trail components are established on our website at rockrivertrail.com and signage for the four trails and routes through Wisconsin and Illinois is being installed.
Are we done? No, hardly. “If you build it, they will come” can only be realized if they know about it! To achieve active participation in the Rock River Trail by a diverse and growing number of residents and visitors will require communication, promotion and marketing. We need to inform residents and visitors alike about the scenic beauty of our natural resources, including our trails, our river communities, and the historic and cultural assets of the Rock River Valley. Additionally, once visitors discover our trails we need to provide a safe, pleasurable and memorable experience so they return and tell others. Positive reviews and personal referrals will be our most effective and cost efficient form of promotion.
Steve Buchtel of Trails For Illinois has said there are five ways to promote trails and obtain economic value from them: branding, wayfinding, hospitality, amenities and events. Building relationships with towns along the trails is a priority along with integrating a consistent trail theme, according to Buchtel.
We are working with Genevieve Coady of Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium, our friends at Visit Beloit and other key tourism and economic development groups in both states to create effective promotional tools. Our goal is to establish the Rock River and its communities as a recreational and leisure destination with national reach. Designation of the Rock River Water Trail as a National Water Trail in 2013 by the US Department of the Interior and the National Park Service was a critical step in this process.
The continued support of the Rock River Coalition is important to our efforts.