BEST PRACTICES PROJECT
In October 2005, the Ontario Government launched the Ontario Trails Strategy - a long term plan that established directions for planning, managing, promoting and using trails in Ontario , and that directly supported ACTIVE 2010 - an initiative to increase physical activity and participation in sport by all Ontarians. These strategies seek to increase awareness and trail use by Ontarians, to provide information to trail users and potential trail users, to improve accessibility and safety on the trails, and to promote an active and healthy life style.
In the spring of 2006 Hike Ontario received a grant from the Trails for Life funding program to develop a 'Manual of Best Practices to Increase Trail Use by Hikers and Walkers in Ontario '. Hike Ontario then engaged in researching and collecting data on strategies, methods and opportunities for increasing use of trails by walkers and hikers.
Many organizations have expressed interest in creating pedestrian footpaths and organizing hiking and walking activities to pique people's desire for healthy, inexpensive, and accessible activities on them.
It is expected that this Guide will be useful to a wide audience:
- Hiking and Walking organizations
- Parks and Recreation staff
- Conservation Area & Parks staff
- A broad range of Special Interest groups (Health Units, Resorts, private landowners)
- Trail Builders, and more
If this audience includes your group, then this Manual will be useful to you. It focuses on five major strategies, and their component steps, that have proven successful, to help groups put the necessary structures in place for planning and managing pedestrian trails and activities to increase the number of Ontarians who participate in walking and hiking for exercise, health, entertainment, or active transportation.
Methodology for Identifying Best Practices
The five 'best practices' discussed in this Guide were adapted from strategies found to be successful by other individuals and organizations that have planned and managed trails and activities using them. Their experiences were solicited and many were interviewed. Their success stories, along with others researched in print and Internet sources, were then presented and discussed at a workshop of experienced hikers and trail builders at Hike Ontario 's Annual General Meeting in October, 2006. The outcomes of those discussions were organized, analyzed and consolidated into the five 'Best Practices' described in this Guide.
Guiding Principles of the Best Practices
For both the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion and Hike Ontario the guiding principles for increasing pedestrian trail use in Ontario 's trails are:
Promote Good Health
- Advance the recognition and importance of hiking and walking as fundamental and inexpensive routes toward optimal health for all:
- Increase activity in walking and hiking by population groups - particularly those known to be less active;
- Increase available information about pedestrian trails; and Increase access to pedestrian based trails, including access by individuals with disabilities.
Encourage Hiking and Walking
- Enhance community based opportunities for walking, whether for recreation or active transportation;
- Increase the practice of pedestrian trail use by all Ontarians;
- Attract visitors from other provinces and countries as part of a viable, sustainable tourist industry in which those natural resources enjoyed by walking and hiking and accessible by pedestrian trails are key; and
- Increase support for and membership in Trail clubs and organizations that build and maintain the extensive system of pedestrian trails throughout Ontario , that organize and promote hiking activities, and train hike leaders.
Enhance Environmental Awareness and Conservation
- Increase opportunities for appreciation of the environment;
- Increase protected environmental areas - the ecosystems which sustain Ontario 's animal, bird, fish and human habitats;
- Present opportunities for education to take place in natural "classrooms and laboratories" - the living environment through which pedestrian trails, ideally, pass;
- Incorporate historical landmarks into urban and rural pedestrian trail systems to further appreciation of the province's heritage.
The Five 'Best Practices' for Increasing Trail Usage by Walkers and Hikers
In the absence of evidence-based and measurable outcomes with a scientific method of evaluating those outcomes, an attempt has been made to identify "best practices" that have been effective in increasing walking and hiking and pedestrian trail use, based on the collective experience of professionals and volunteers working in this field.
In data gathered for this project, five "Best Practices" emerged as essential for increasing trail use by walkers and hikers in Ontario:
The Five Best Practices
a) Trail Planning, Development and Management
b) Dialogue with Partners and Trail Users
c) Develop Strong Linkages & Partnerships Across Various Sectors
d) Develop Collaborative Strategies
2. Enhance the Trail Experience
a) Great Trails
b) Great Activities
c) Great Trail Users
3. Target Specific Population Groups
a) Older adults
b) Children & youth
c) Girls & women
d) Low income families
e) People with disabilities
f) Visible minorities
4. Market the Experience
a) Develop and commit to a public relations plan
b) Brand your trail or experience
c) Provide clear and accurate trail information
d) Create a website providing easy access to current information and virtual experiences
e) Establish mutually beneficial marketing relationships
f) Make friends with the media
5. Evaluate and Modify the Program
a) Develop measurable indicators of success
c) Analyze the results
d) Modify program(s) to overcome barriers and achieve objectives
How the Best Practices are presented
Each of the five 'Best Practices' is included in a stand-alone section in this Guide.
Each section includes a:
SNAPSHOT: an overview of what will be covered in each section
OBJECTIVES: what the Best Practice strives to achieve
BIG PICTURE: provides details of the strategies necessary to achieving the Best Practice
CASE STUDIES: cross-referenced case studies that demonstrate the Best Practice in action
The five best practices follow a natural progression. The first two focus on laying the foundation - enhancing the trail experience through planning, designing, and building new trails (or improving existing ones), and planning organized and non-organized activities on the trails for which collaboration with key stakeholders must be in place.