I’ve spent much of this week trying to unpack (in both the literal and figurative senses) two fantastic professional experiences, both involving interacting with trail and tourism professionals of Atlantic Canada. The experiences:
- In April, spending a week in Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where I took a fantastic four day course on experiential travel (“The Edge of the Wedge” offered by Gros Morne Institute for Sustainable Tourism, The Tourism Cafe, and Earth Rhythms).
- Last week, hosting the “Business of Trails” best practices mission, which showcased communities and small businesses that make efforts to connect to the Appalachian Trail, C&O Canal Towpath, and Great Allegheny Passage.
One of our participants last week said her “mind was stretched” (in a good way) as a result of the trip. Well, my mind was stretched, too, Ashley. And so was my heart. Some of the best people I’ve met hail from your part of the world, and I was honored to spend the week exchanging ideas and laughs. The same goes for my week in Newfoundland and Labrador.
I’ve wanted to write something meaningful about these experiences, but I’m having trouble finding the words. Instead, I’ll settle for sharing a synopsis of what we did:
How I spent my time in Newfoundland
- Held a blue lobster at a marine center and helped to clean out its tank
- Learned to steam mussels (a little bit of local beer is all it takes) and did some sampling
- Ate some more mussels in a fishing shed on one of the coldest days of winter alongside 30 new friends. We ate family style, passing around a fish bake, fresh bread, and carrot cake.
- Learned to shuck lobster
- Ate all things moose: sausage, soup, and roast
- Made a glass mosaic with a local artist at a community center. Our hosts at the center treated us to a variety of hot soups, sandwiches, and dessert. Sometimes the simplest meals can be the most nourishing.
- Got to hear live music in intimate spaces. I can’t share all the secrets, but let’s just say that the artists involved our group in the performances.
- Took a stunning hike for which our guide had planted some surprise treats (more moose, local dessert wine, and even seal). A moment I hope I’ll never forget is a member of our cohort singing Ode to Labrador a cappella on that snowy mountaintop.
- On top of all that, we managed to spend about 16 hours in the classroom learning about experiential travel.
So, you see, we learned about providing enriching experiences by being exposed to them. Day after day, our hosts knocked our socks off and then we hit the classroom to learn the business of experiential travel. The timing couldn’t have been better. The course allowed me to see the “Business of Trails” trip I was planning through a new lens. The group visiting the states would be “on a mission” to learn the ins and outs of trail tourism, but I now realized that their visits would be enhanced through place-based experiences. We layered in as many as possible: live Appalachian-inspired tunes, sampling all things local (honey, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, beer and wine), and helping to operate a canal lock. The trip was made more memorable by immersing the group in place. A bit more on how the group spent their time here:
How a group of 11 Atlantic Canadians spent their time in the U.S.
- Visited the awesome Great Falls and walked along the C&O Canal Towpath
- Visited Antietam National Battlefield, a site whose unfortunate history influenced the nation
- Shared a meal and live music with a group of regional trail and tourism advocates. It was serendipitous that they were in Shepherdstown on the very same evening preparing to participate in the Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities course. It’s the only day of the year that our breaking bread together could have worked out, and it did.
- Heard the most riveting interpretive talk at Harpers Ferry (thank you, Ranger David Fox!) and put their feet on the Appalachian Trail
- Ate good food for four days straight – Nancy B’s famed chocolate chip cookies, farm-to-table dishes at SHiFT in Frostburg, Cajun and Creole food in Bolivar, pulled pork and fried catfish at Domestic in Shepherdstown, and complete decadence at Savage River Lodge
- Learned about local Appalachian foodways – like “burnt” sugar, pumpkin festivals, and how eateries are adding a modern twist to regional cuisine.
- Toured a 1920s lock house, part of the innovative Canal Quarters program
- Biked the Great Allegheny Passage twice. The Confluence to Ohiopyle section was an absolute hit. I’m convinced that this stretch of trail is one of the prettiest places anywhere.
- Improvised…on a rainy morning, we stopped by Spruce Forest Artisan Village, which turned out to be a favorite stop. And then there was the time that our bus broke down on I-68. Luckily, it was able to inch up Sideling Hill and spent those two hours at a rest stop (read: scenic view, charging stations, vending machines, bus snacks, and the contents of a single flask stretched to satisfy the first eight takers).
- Spoke with 25 small business owners, nonprofit professionals, park rangers and other people working to leverage trails to make a difference in their communities. All of these great folks are listed below.
Experience, Hospitality and Economic Impact
Immersive experiences and the warm hospitality behind them were what made both trips memorable.
In tourism, we spend a lot of collective energy going for impact, typically focusing on economic impact. But the longer I’m around the industry, the more I realize that when a visitor (or a local) is personally impacted, fully immersed, and warmly welcomed, the more likely that economic impact (and its ripple effect) is to occur.
As for last week’s best practices mission, this was a learning trip. As mentioned, we met with 25 speakers, toured sites, and saw PowerPoint presentations. But is was also a spending trip. I saw oodles of souvenirs purchased at visitor centers, book shops, bike shops, and even liquor stores. This is in addition to the group’s spending on lodging, meals, and bike and bus rentals. It was a mutually beneficial trip that allowed for learning, shared experiences, and four days of great exchanges. The boost in business was just the burnt sugar icing on top of the fresh-baked cupcakes (those courtesy of Levi Deal Mansion B&B).
The Business of Trails Presenters
A special thanks to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Gros Morne Institute for Sustainable Tourism, as well as the following guest speakers who shared of their time, energy and expertise:
Ranger Kelly Fox, Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center
Auni Gelles, Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area
Dan Spedden, Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Nora Slick, River & Trail Outfitters
Don Briggs, Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
Lois Turco, Canal Towns Partnership
Cathy McCollom, McCollom Development Strategies
Chelsea McBee, performer
Ranger David Fox, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Laurie Potteiger, Applachian Trail Conservancy
Matt Graves, Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Hope Midock, Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Chris Craig, Laurel Lodge B&B and Trail and Town Alliance of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar
Chef Kev, Bissou Bistro
Rose Harris, Desert Rose Cafe
Becky Curtis, C&O Canal Trust
Jan Russell and Emily Newman-Edwards, Savage River Lodge
Jan Dofner and Michael Dedolph, Levi Deal Mansion B&B
Melissa Friend, Donges Drive-In
Frank Maguire, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Bill Atkinson, Maryland Department of Planning
Elizabeth Stahlman, City of Frostburg
Jes Clay, SHiFT
Fred Powell, Main Street Books
Brad and Maureen Smith, Confluence Cyclery
Ann Nemanic, Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau
Renee Seifert, Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau
Eric Martin, Wilderness Voyageurs, Falls City Pub, and Trillium Lodge
Ken Bisbee, Ohiopyle State Park