Montgomery County is known for its jobs, shopping, neighborhoods, and highways. It’s also very well known for its trails, particularly the well-established Schuylkill River and Perkiomen Trails. These two trails, with over a million riders and walkers a year, are in many ways the community gathering place for the county, where people from all walks of life come together at a pace that allows interaction and contemplation. Other trails that the county is building, such as the Pennypack, Cross County, and Chester Valley Trails, are expected to attract similar ridership levels over time.
Although the county has a vibrant arts and culture community, it is less known for its arts than other assets; and even though the trails go through or near many towns, historic sites, rivers, and cultural venues, trail users don’t necessarily connect with these places. The Art on Our Trails project is intended to connect the county’s “main street” – its trails – with its arts, towns, and nature by using art to stimulate and educate trail users.
Art on our Trails Summit
In the fall of 2014, Creative MontCo and the Montgomery County Planning Commission held a summit to determine interest in having art on the county’s trails. Thirty people representing artists, activists, arts organizations, businesses, educators, conservancies, libraries, non-profits, foundations, tourism, parks, planning, local government, transportation management, and citizens participated. Attendees heard presentations about art on trail projects around the country, planning for art on trails, and Montgomery County’s trail system. They then worked in small groups to discuss goals, themes, types of art, locations for art, and implementation issues. The results of this input have been used to create this master plan for art on Montgomery County’s trails, including the goals. Overall, summit attendees strongly supported the concept of more art on the county’s trails.
There are three overall goals of the Art on Our Trails Project:
- Improve the Trail Experience
Art would improve the trail experience by providing interest, beautifying industrial and utility areas, providing places to pause in-between landmarks, and educating about the county’s wonderful natural areas, rural landscapes, historic properties, and vibrant towns.
- Encourage Economic Development
Art could connect trail users with the towns along the trail, bringing people into towns to use their restaurants, theaters, galleries, and shops. This is particularly important for Norristown and Pottstown, the two poorest communities in the county that have both used art and culture as a revitalization tool.
- Raise the Profile of the Arts
The presence of art on the county’s trails would provide a unique venue for county artists and make art accessible to members of the public who might not normally go to a gallery or museum.