Heritage Rail Trail: Economic Alliance helping York County businesses connect with half a million users

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Twelve local businesses along the York County Heritage Rail Trail are getting a boost from the York County Economic Alliance.

As part of its York County Trail Towns program, the YCEA announced during a Tuesday news conference that the businesses will share $25,000 in Bloom Grants. The grants range from $500 to $5,000, and the 12 businesses were selected out of 19 applicants. 

"We are primarily granting to businesses in our trail towns along the York Heritage Rail Trail," said Silas Chamberlin, YCEA vice president for economic development. "And the funds are intended to help these businesses add services or marketing or otherwise try to tap into the roughly half a million people who visit the Heritage Rail Trail every year." 

The "trail towns" covered by the program are Seven Valleys, York City, New Freedom, Railroad and Glen Rock. The trail follows the Northern Central Railway. What the grants will be used for varies by business; for example, Capt. Bob's Crabs in Railroad will use the grant for portable toilets, a bike rack and landscaping.

Chamberlin said the strongest criteria for the businesses chosen by the YCEA was whether the grant would add a tangible benefit to the rail trail.

"We have done through the Trail Towns program a lot of focus groups and interviews and conversations with the community trail users about what's missing in each community and what some of the opportunities are," he said. "And so we've heard recurring feedback around, 'Oh, it'd be great to have better signage so we know what businesses are here.' Or 'It'd be great to have bike racks around the businesses so we know they're welcoming to trail users.'"

More than 200 runners signed up to take part in the sixth annual York YMCA Marathon and 1/2 Marathon, Sunday, October 11, 2020. The event started at the YMCA on Newberry Street and followed the York Heritage Rail trail for 26.2 miles and 13.1 miles respectively. The event is a Boston Marathon qualifier. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

As the YCEA ranked businesses for the grants, they scored them based on how they addressed gaps in services that had been identified.

Jackson House Bed and Breakfast co-owner Amanda Poulin said her grant would be used on a concession stand, replacing awnings and on landscaping.

"When you travel between Glen Rock and New Freedom, other than Capt. Bob's there's no place for people to stop and get water," she said about the concession stand. "So that's a much-needed amenity along the trail."

Acquired by the current ownership group in 2019, Jackson House will also work on renovating a waterfall on the property. 

The idea behind the grants, created in 2018 by YCEA interns, was to help businesses grow, Chamberlin said. This round's funding comes from the York County Community Foundation.

Local business designated trail-friendly: The YCEA has also awarded its first Trail-Friendly Business to New Freedom's Gillice Italian Ice and Ice Cream. The new initiative encourages businesses to establish a level of customer service that encourages "trail traffic" to participate.

Co-owner Myra Gillis said she was excited by the designation as well as the grant, which will be used on signage.

"We moved here from Maryland about 10 to 11 years ago and our goal was to open up a shop, some kind of ice cream place here," she said. "We liked the town. People are friendly. We thought it would be an asset, especially to the trail. And especially with the Trail Towns getting involved, it's another plus." 

YCEA debuts promotional video: In addition to announcing the recipients of Bloom Grants, the YCEA also debuted a new promotional video highlighting the Heritage Rail Trail and the Trail Towns program. Created by local videographer Brian Lazzaro, the video promotes the natural beauty of the area and businesses such as the Glen Rock Mill Inn and the New Freedom Rail Trail Cafe. 

Lazzaro, who moved to Railroad from California in 2014 with his wife, said his idea was to make the area look as great as it could.

"I think people tend to drive by this area a lot; they don't know what's over here. So just putting a spotlight on the trail and southern York County in the most beautiful way possible was definitely my goal," he said. "It was a cool project to be a part of, not just from a perspective of it's a job for me, but also a job that will have a direct impact on the community that I live in." 

YCEA has produced a promotional video highlighting its five Trail Towns along the Heritage Rail Trail.