The Schuylkill River Heritage Area has awarded grants to five communities for projects intended to draw users of the Schuylkill River land and water trails to area downtowns, historic sites, restaurants and shops.

The communities of Pottstown, Phoenixville, Hamburg, Pottsville and East Falls were selected to receive funding from the Schuylkill River Heritage Area's (SRHA) new Heritage Towns and Tours initiative. (Please see attached sheet for details on each grant award).

Grant recipients will be awarded $2,000 to support creation of a Heritage Action Plan using the SRHA's Heritage Towns and Tours Toolkit, and will receive up to $5,000 in consultant support while developing the plan. Once a plan is completed and approved by the SRHA, awardees will be eligible for up to $25,000 to enact it.

Recipients must then provide a 10 percent match and be able to complete all projects within 12-months.

The grants, made possible with funding from the William Penn Foundation, are intended to support communities along the Schuylkill River land and water trails with projects in three areas: improving connections between trails and towns, creating an identity and a sense of place, and marketing themselves as destinations.

"The Heritage Towns and Tours Program was established as part of our goal of using recreation and heritage tourism to help revitalize Heritage Area communities," said SRHA Executive Director Kurt Zwikl. "We are pleased to announce these grants, which will serve to improve the economy of municipalities that participate, and connect trail users to heritage resources throughout the region."

The five recipients were chosen from a pool of 16 applicants from the five county Heritage Area (Schuylkill, Berks, Chester, Montgomery and Phoenixville). Grants were awarded based on a range of criteria, including how well applications adhered to the SRHA's initiatives; the ability of partners to carry out the projects in a 12-month period; and the accessibility of the community to the Schuylkill River Trail or Schuylkill River Water Trail.

The grant program and the Heritage Towns and Tours concept grew out of the SRHA's successful Trail Town Conferences held over the past two years. Those conferences provided information to business and community leaders seeking to make their towns into destinations for trail users.

According to a 2009 Schuylkill River Trail user survey conducted by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the trail, which currently has 56 completed miles, attracted over 800,000 visits and generated $7.3 million in direct economic impact in 2008.

While the trail town concept can be applied to any community located along a trail, those along the Schuylkill River Trail have a particular advantage. Because the Schuylkill River Trail will, when complete, run 130 miles, it is more likely to attract tourists from outside the region. Studies show that people who come from out of town will spend four times as much as local users.

Heritage Towns and Tours 2011 Grant Awards

1. Grantee: Borough of Pottstown

Project Title: Pottstown Business Loop: Off the Trail and Into the Town

Description: Proposal calls for improving connections from the Schuylkill River Trail to Pottstown's downtown and Pottsgrove Manor. Projects include installing a variety of way-finding signs and kiosks, striping bike lanes, and creating a cohesive collection of marketing materials to direct bikers, hikers and other trail users into the downtown.

2. Grantee: Hamburg's Our Town Foundation

Project Title: Historic Hamburg's Blueprint for Success

Description: Implementing several projects that will increase tourism, educate residents about heritage resources, and promote the area's natural recreational resources.

3. Grantee: East Falls Development Corporation

Project Title: East Falls Way Finding Signage Installation

Description: Install a series of signs in East Falls' Riverfront Business District to establish community identity and direct people to important assets in the neighborhood, including the Schuylkill River Trail, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center, Sherman Mills, and trail parking.

4. Grantee: Schuylkill County Visitor's Bureau

Project Title: Pottsville: Gateway to the Schuylkill River Heritage Area

Description: Creating Pottsville's identity as the gateway to the Schuylkill River Heritage Area and capitalizing on the city's many assets as part of the Coal Country Corridor. Informational, directional and interpretive signs will connect the river (and eventually the Schuylkill River Trail) to Pottsville's unique historical and cultural resources like Yuengling Brewery Museum, Jerry's Classic Cars and Collectibles Museum and the Historical Society of Schuylkill County.

5. Grantees: The Schuylkill River Heritage Center at Phoenixville

Project Title: Interpretive Signage Project

Description: Install interpretive signs along the Schuylkill River Trail as it traverses through the former Phoenix Iron and Steel Company property, and provide information about the steel company's legacy and its connection to French Creek and the Schuylkill River. The plan also calls for a sign with a map of the area to be placed in Phoenixville's downtown.