Trails council to incorporate artistic events
Members of the Jefferson County Trails Council are searching for ways to make its trail system stand out, and they think they’ve found an answer.
Among Fairfield’s claims to fame is the number and quality of artists who reside here. The council wants to use the town’s artistic notoriety to attract visitors by holding photography classes and painting workshops on the trails.
Fairfield Iowa Convention and Visitors Bureau assistant director Terry Baker suggested to the council that it incorporate events, and particularly artistic events, to make its trail system shine brighter than all the rest.
“Most counties in Iowa have some sort of trail, whether it be cement, limestone chips or prairie grass,” she said. “Our role right now is to help the trails council find a way to be unique. Until we learn to express what makes us unique, it will be hard to distinguish ourselves from other communities.”
Earlier this month, volunteers beautified the trails by installing new kiosks, adding informational panels to the kiosks and repairing existing kiosks. In addition to the colorful kiosks, Baker said she envisions permanent art sculptures along the trail.
Baker added that the trails council and the visitors bureau could generate interest in the trail system by the way they write about it in promotional materials.
“We have to think of ways to describe the experience of the trails similar to what a travel writer would say,” she said. “There are two aspects to this promotion: one is developing assets on the trails to make it unique, and the other involves describing what already exists so people look at it with fresh eyes.”
Jami Johnson, co-chairwoman of the trails council’s marketing and promotion committee, said she would like to hold a “trails photography day,” where residents and visitors would get together to capture beautiful scenes in and outside town. She also envisions classes where participants set up an easel on the trail and paint what they see.
Johnson said other ideas that could spruce up the trails would be a series of artistic benches. Another idea is to have a bicycle service station similar to those along the trails in Iowa City. The bicycle service station would have an air pump to inflate bike tires and other supplies such as wrenches for making repairs.
One thing about Jefferson County’s trails that already separates them from other trails is that they are gravel. Trails that are unpaved are referred to as soft trails. Johnson said those are unusual in Iowa, where most of the trails are paved. She said Fairfield could use that unusual feature to its advantage in marketing the trails.
“Soft trails feel more outdoorsy,” she said.
In yet another upcoming change, the trails council plans to replace the old printed maps in the kiosks with new large maps.
The work the trails council has done to improve the quality of life in Jefferson County has not gone unnoticed. In June, council chairman Steven Pedrick was one of 22 guest speakers at the Iowa Trails Summit in Cedar Falls. The keynote speaker of the event was child psychologist Douglas Gentile, a professor at Iowa State University who has written about the effect of violent video games on children.
Although the two areas may seem unrelated, Gentile said getting kids off the couch and exercising outdoors, such as on a trail, can not only improve their physical health but also make them less prone to violence. His research has shown that kids who spend more time outdoors are less violent.
Darin Hayne, co-chairwoman of the trails council’s marketing and promotion committee, said the trails are a perfect tool for encouraging the county’s residents to get out of the house and enjoy some fresh air.
“The trails provide us with an opportunity to step away from technology and a sedentary lifestyle,” she said. “When you’re using the trails, you’re improving your health and getting in touch with nature.”