Recently, staff from several of the Great Allegheny Passage visitor centers met to discuss resources and opportunities as they welcome visitors off the trail. One of the first suggestions was knowing when and where trail users can eat in town as well as special dietary need, such as vegetarianism. Not only does it promote the “trail magic,” or a good experience for trail users, but it also encourages trail users to come back to specific areas on the GAP trail in future trips.
Another topic discussed was gifts trail users can get official GAP merchandise. Dorthea from the West Newton Visitor Center mentioned how train whistles with the GAP logo are a hit for trail users with children or bringing gifts back to their families. She explained that while it is a small token, it is easy to carry on a bike when traveling the GAP. T-shirts were also brought up in great detail. This is an opportunity for visitor centers to sell and help brand the trail from one point to another and along the way. Some of the visitor centers may update their t shirts and other apparel.
The meeting was not conducted in an all serious manner though. Stories about experiences at the various visitor centers were shared and there was a lot of joking. One such story was when a trail user asked whether the ten miles to the next town was ten miles biking distance, or ten miles hiking distance. Doug, of Ohiopyle, jokingly proposed an invention called, “The Bike Dipe,” which would keep bicyclists’ backs clean while riding the trail while it is muddy, and thus help to keep the visitor centers cleaner. Having rags or towels around and ready is a great way to greet your visitors caught in the rain.
Staff from the visitor centers also talked about various international people they encountered while working including but not limited to: Germany, Australia, Austria, and Spain. Overall, the meeting was a nice way to get all of the visitor centers from the Trail Towns on the same page before some of the 900,000+ trail users from last year start rolling through again.