The Benefits of a Capacity Building Approach to Nature-Based Economic Development

  • Group of volunteers standing near the Contoocook River

On a recent sunny Saturday morning, a group of dedicated community volunteers gathered in the Village of Contoocook, in the Town of Hopkinton, NH, to conduct an assessment of the natural and built features in the area. Community volunteers identified assets and opportunities focused on better connecting the central business district with local trails and the Contoocook River. The Town of Hopkinton is the fourth community to take part in UNH Extension’s Downtowns & Trails program. The Hopkinton volunteers have been trained by Extension staff in several types of data collection that will help support local decision-making.

The recent spatial assessment utilized a mobile ArcGIS application called Field Maps. Volunteers used the application to collect information on a variety of characteristics, including trails, and in this community’s case, the prominent Contoocook River that flows through the central business district, Contoocook Village. Community members from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds - including conservation, economic development, the local library, and fire and safety, rated and made observations on things such as the water quality, views and river access, the presence of businesses, sidewalks, and landscaping. The data collected will supply useful information for the community and help the group address opportunities, in the short and long runs, to improve the connection between Contoocook Village and Hopkinton’s trail system and natural features.

Many volunteers worked in pairs to conduct their assessments and established connections while discussing their perspectives with each other in collaborative ways. The approach of working and learning together builds important social connections that can support future community capacity in which community members work together effectively, make group decisions, and plan, set goals and take action to solve problems. Furthermore, during a time of decreased connections and persistent isolation, emphasis on building community and social connections is vital.

The Downtowns & Trails program supports building the capacity of people to affect change and focuses on nature’s ability to support strong economies. Capacity building approaches to nature-based economic development are key to community resilience. The process of assessing natural assets and understanding their relationship to the local economy opens the door to meaningful and sustainable decision-making.

We look forward to sharing more about this work with the Hopkinton-Contoocook community as our program continues this spring and summer. Learn more about the Downtowns and Trails program here.


Associate Extension Professor
Affiliated Faculty
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Extension State Specialist/Professor
Phone: (603) 862-5171
Office: Cooperative Extension, Nesmith Hall, Durham, NH 03824