Reflections from Community Engagement Dalrymple Fellow Samantha Powers

This past semester, I have been fortunate enough to work with Community and Economic Development as a Dalrymple Fellow. Through the guidance of Shannon Rogers, I was tasked with researching the relationship between trails and downtowns in New Hampshire communities. At first, I was unsure where to begin, so I delved into the literature and began examining how trails and downtowns can intersect, specifically in regards to the built environment.

Through my research, I examined existing trails and downtowns programs in other states, but found a discrepancy with the definition of a downtown. Shannon and I began discussing the diversity of downtowns in New Hampshire, and how we felt New Hampshire downtowns might not fit a traditional model. In New Hampshire, there is not just one type of downtown. Rather, there appears to be more of a spectrum, from more rural to more urban, with this rural/urban feel aligning with the type, availability and number of business within a community. Further, when thinking about a downtown’s connection to trails, research has shown it is crucial to consider the walkability of the downtown, especially given the diversity of downtown scope and size.

To develop a more inclusive definition of a downtown, we selected 10 pilot communities with proximate trails in the Seacoast region. We utilized the Walk Score methodology to determine walkability of the central downtown areas of each community. Walk Score is a valuable measure as it accounts for presence of walking routes to everyday destinations such as grocery stores, parks, restaurants and retail. Using the walkability score, as well taking into account the overall rural/urban feel of the community, we created a spectrum of three types of downtowns: atypical, moderate and traditional.

Quantifying the concept of a downtown really helped us to think about the connection between trails and downtowns in the different downtown environments, and led us to focus on the pathway between the entrance to the downtown and the trailhead. Building off the Pennsylvania Trail Town Guide, we defined our trails types as the following in relation to their proximity to the downtown: internal, adjacent, removed (up to two miles away), and external (over two miles away). In defining the downtowns, we discovered that the pathway between downtowns and trails is often very different depending on the downtown type. Utilizing ArcGIS maps as well as aerial photos of our pilot communities, we were able to visualize this pathway in a unique way.

I had the valuable experience of joining Shannon for a presentation about downtowns and trails at the 2018 Economic Development Academy graduation, where we discussed the connection between downtowns and trails, which is inherently tied to the existence of this pathway. Beyond this presentation, I have been working to compile a N.H. downtowns and trails guide, which largely focuses on the built environment of the downtown as well as the pathway between the downtown and trailhead.

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