On May 3 -5, 2016, the River Town Program was selected to participate at The Conservation Fund’s leadership program: “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Rural Communities and Landscapes.” Held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the conference consisted of lectures and workshops by nationally recognized economic and community development experts.
The River Town team consisted of Cathy McCollom, principal of McCollom Development Strategies; Donna Holdorf, Executive Director of the National Road Heritage Corridor; Kent Edwards, also of McCollom Development Strategies, and Dennis Martinak, a 21 year employee of Mackin Engineering and a resident of Allenport, Pennsylvania, a town which recently joined the River Town Program. Marla Meyer Papernik of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Lois Turco, chair of the Canal Town Partnership; and Wendy Duchene, a consultant for River Town Program, rounded out the team.
Over an intensive three days of lectures and workshops, the River Town team applied what was gleaned from the speakers to the particular needs of the towns in the Monongahela River Valley region. In workshops held over the duration of the program, including an intensive four-hour session on the final day, the team developed an action strategy and timeline for a trail project to connect and benefit a number of towns bordering the Monongahela River. Community meetings will be held in the near future to get public input on the proposed project.
A recurring theme at the conference was the need to focus on improving the lives of residents of small towns in a rapidly changing world. Key to that improvement is preserving the pride residents have in their communities and regions when addressing economic health and development. The recognition, preservation, and rekindling of that local and regional pride then allows for the attraction of wider outside interest in those communities – both for entrepreneurial investment and for the economic development that flows from tourism.