Should Palmerton become an Appalachian Trail Community?
Dale Freudenberger, anthracite region coordinator, Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, discussed the possibility with members of the Palmerton Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
Freudenberger said he believes there is only one other community in the state that has been designated as an ATC.
"It's new," Freudenberger said. "It's quite an honor to be considered."
Freudenberger noted that "Palmerton is already a well-known, Appalachian Trail-friendly community."
"The borough, its businesses, and its residents provide many services to hikers, which make their experience in this area more comfortable," he said. "The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Trail community simply enhances those activities and recognizes Palmerton for its work."
The purposes of the program, Freudenberger said, are to recognize and thank communities for their service to the trail and hikers; act as a catalyst for developing or enhancing the businesses that accommodate trail users, as means of economic development for the community; and help local community members see the Trail as a resource and asset.
He said short-term benefits are the prestige of a national designation; recognition and visibility through signage (two signs for primary entrances to town); press releases, Appalachian Trail Conservancy's website and publications; teacher eligibility for an ATC place-based education and service-learning program; and opportunities for technical assistance related to building trail-related businesses and other related issues.
Long-term benefits Freudenberger mentioned are trail-friendly promotion of businesses through ATC-assisted marketing techniques; an enriched relationship between trail users and the community; and sustainable tourism development that supplements business revenues.
In order to receive the designation, Freudenberger said a small committee of interested residents, business owners, and officials would have to form to oversee the application process and manage the program, which include something of a minimal equivalent to the tune of quarterly meetings; a brief application would have to be completed and submitted to the ATC for consideration; the group would have to agree to hold one trail-related event each year that highlights the community's connection to the Appalachian Trail, and the great services it provides to trail users; and develop other programming or projects as determined by the committee.
Freudenberger noted "there is no liability for encouraging people to visit Palmerton, just as Palmerton is not liable for people visiting the town via car. The community has no liability for accidents occurring on the Appalachian Trail, or its side trail, because it is not a landowner."
As far as whether there might be too many people visiting the town, he said "the number of hikers per month is in the hundreds, and is seasonal. Although the trail is popular, there will never be overwhelming numbers of hikers visiting town."
With regard to the potential for increased crime, Freudenberger said "the typical Appalachian Trail hiker is middle-to-upper-middle-class, well educated, and affluent.
"Per capita rates of crime and vandalism on the trail are extremely low," he said. "Of course, a few folks will cause problems, but crime is much more likely to originate from people living in town or accessing it by car."
Freudenberger said the reason why the borough should consider the endeavor is that the ATC wants to recognize the communities that are providing services to hikers, both as a means of bringing business to town, and also helping hikers identify places to eat, sleep, and shop.
"For a minimal commitment, the town can market itself as one of only a few trail-friendly communities, and contribute to the growing sense that Palmerton is a unique, sustainable, healthy place to live," he said. "So, in short, why not?"
There is no deadline or application timeline, Freudenberger said.
"This is a unique opportunity," he said. "It's not being offered everywhere."