Betsy Thurston, Executive Director of Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance (BFDDA) on Main Street in Bellows Falls. (Photo by Maia Segura)
Outdoor recreation opportunities and local retailers join forces for the literal win
by Maia Segura Leveraging funds from outdoor recreation and economic development grants, the Town of Rockingham and Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance (BFDDA) recently launched “Walk the Rock,” a Bellows Falls town and trail promotion where local hikers, visitors, and urban adventurers discover some of the area’s hidden gems, earning a collection of prizes while they explore.
Driven by a map featuring five trails around downtown Bellows Falls highlighting some of the town’s most treasured views and local retailers, hikers are offered two ways to play: hiking designated trails to earn stickers and a stainless-steel water bottle; or by filling a passport with signatures from retailers to receive a gift certificate to a participating business of their choosing. High demand for the maps has driven a second printing, which includes an additional seven retailers opting into the program since the first printing a few months ago.
The project is funded by a Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) community grant to develop connectivity among trails in and around the town of Rockingham, and develop an economic development plan that will support local businesses while promoting the quality of life that comes with outdoor recreational opportunities. It also highlights numerous efforts by organizations like Windham County Trail Alliance (WCoTA), Windham Hill Pinnacle Association, Saxtons River Valley Trails Initiative (SRVTI), and Bellows Falls Historical Society, among others, who have planned, built, worked to fund, promote, and maintain the trails.
Walking trails include a riverfront trail which meanders past the Adams Old Stone Grist Mill museum and culminates in a “Labyrinth.” Another trail traverses the Ski Tow hill which is anchored by a Pump Track near the Recreation Center and leads up to a walk through the woods on Oak Hill. There is also a walk around the island adjacent to downtown, formerly home to the town’s papermaking industry which is celebrated by a new kiosk commemorating the historic Robertson Paper Mill which was demolished in 2019. And, of course, there is a Retail Trail that spans the downtown business district.
“Selfie Spot” near the top of the Ski Tow on the Pump Track trail captures scenic views of Bellows Falls and the Connecticut River Valley. (Photo by Maia Segura)
To participate in the promotion, “selfies” are snapped at the appropriate spot on each of the five trails. The photos are then presented to one of 26 participating retailers who will award a custom sticker for that trail. When participants collect stickers for all five trails, they earn a branded “Walk the Rock” stainless steel water bottle. In addition, when participants engage in the “Passport” portion of the map and gain signatures from all participating businesses, they will earn a $10 gift certificate to the participating business of their choice. Trail seekers are encouraged to post photos on social media with a #WalkTheRock tag to qualify for a drawing for additional prizes. Retailers opt into the program with $50 to fund the gift certificates.
During the holiday season, BFDDA is folding Walk the Rock into its Shop Local promotion to drive more traffic into stores. During this time, participants who collect just 15 signatures from participating business will earn a gift certificate, rather than all 26 required during the rest of the year.
"Rockingham Development and Bellows Falls Downtown are proud to present this program which adds wayfinding in Bellows Falls, integrating our trails system with our downtown merchants who offer everything from gems, gifts, clothing, antiques, books, arcade games, pet supplies, and excellent food and drink options," said Betsy Thurston, Executive Director of BFDDA. “We’ve had several people hike all five of the trails, collect their stickers, and claim water bottles. I’ve heard from others that they are making progress on the passport.”
"It has been fun to hear from every participant that they have discovered something new about Bellows Falls," said Thurston. “We are excited to introduce places like the Riverfront Trail to visitors and residents who are still discovering the Labyrinth and Poet’s Seat. And the Island Trail offers a reflection of the past giving us an appreciation of who came before us. There will be even more to explore as trails continue to evolve with new bridges, a town-owned train station, and the Area Wide Plan which supports and encourages new development.”
Larissa Demos, owner of Flat Iron Cooperative – a retailer on the Walk the Rock Retail trail, shows off trail stickers and water bottle that she earned by hiking all five trails. (Photo Courtesy of BFDDA)
Rockingham Development and BFDDA worked with Creative Catalyst Communications, a South Newfane marketing and communications firm specializing in community and economic development, to develop the concept and materials for Walk the Rock. “Everybody loves a treasure hunt,” said co-founder Daimian Lix. “We think this is a super fun way to create a win for business owners, visitors, and locals alike, while highlighting the work of some terrific organizations that have put so much care into the trails. It’s community partnerships and placemaking at their finest.”
Walk the Rock maps are available at Town Hall, Rockingham Free Public Library, the Welcome Center, and all participating businesses. More information about the promotion is available at Rockinghamvt.org/walktherock.
Maia Segura is a freelance writer from Windham County.