Road Trip Guide - Page 8 - Tap into a tourist trail continued

Road Trip Guide
- Page 8
Tap into a tourist trail continued
thought we knew, only to turn up new discoveries.

I remember one of the first such trails I ever followed, the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail, led all the way around the Shore’s 127 miles of coastline and pointed out historic, natural, cultural and other attractions along the way. It was how I discovered not only some unusual sights (Tinicum Island Rear Range Light, a lighthouse in the Billingsport section of Paulsboro) but some of my favorites to this day (Cheesequake State Park, Allaire Village).

Discovering new places and getting off the beaten path are why routes have become an increasingly popular marketing tool for tourism officials these days. These trails don’t just benefit you, of course. Themed tourist trails are becoming an ever-more popular way to market destinations — to encourage visitors to check out lesser-known places and to linger a little longer. Often they are organized by tourism officials along with local government and business leaders and other groups interested in developing the economy of a region.

The Fresno Fruit Trail, for instance, was started as a way to help small-scale farmers in California gain another source of income by offering tours, pick-your-own or even bed-and-breakfast accommodations to tourists. It was a way to keep the family farm business alive.

The trail idea isn’t new, of course, Pilgrimage routes have been around for centuries. People have followed in the paths of famous explorers — the Lewis and Clark Trail, for instance.

But the ways the trails are set up and how we follow them are changing. Public relations companies are beginning to offer theme-route consultations. They not only work with locals to identify the unique and most valuable resources —history, art, crafts, geography — of their communities but also assure that trails offer other tourism amenities, like accommodations, rest stops, scenic overlooks, etc.

New types of technology are being used to help tell old stories. The Mason County Heritage Trail’s newly established Barn Quilt Trails and Lumber Trail may bring you back to the old agricultural traditions of this area of northern Michigan, but you learn all about how to fell a tree or what life was like in a lumber camp from the privacy of your cellphone in both recorded and video programs.

Some of these helpful trails, ironically, can still be hard to unearth. Aside from a few famous trails like the Silk Road and the Lewis and Clark Trail, they’re not well known. But, as I discovered with a little research, many organizations have well-funded and established programs and have been researching and developing tourist trails for years. Only now is their work gaining attention, and in most cases, they’re scrambling to come up with the maps, brochures and other materials modern tourists take for granted at destinations.

Small-town trails, like the Mason County Heritage Trails, have become big news — in their region, or perhaps their state. When planning a trip, the county and state tourism websites are your best bet for unearthing these oft-hidden maps to the treasures.

Here are several to consider:
• The National Scenic Byways Program, (fhwa.dot.gov/byways): Part of the Federal Highway Administration, the program is a grass-roots collaborative effort established to help recognize, preserve and enhance selected roads throughout the United States that are deemed especially significant based on one or more archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities.

There are about 150 specially designated stretches of roadway in the system today. Over three weeks, I took several of these roads: the Lincoln Highway, the Historic National Road, Route 66, the Great River Road, Natchez Trace and a smidgen of the Blue Ridge Parkway. In 4,200 miles, the routes took me back to places of significance in America’s history, the evolution