Communicating with stakeholders is best done face-to-face, but use every tool at your disposal to get the job done. Go to their meetings, visit their homes, appear before the town council and the planning board, meet with them at the government agency office, visit them at their places of business, take part in their recreational activities, stay at the local bed and breakfast, or have lunch with them at the diner.
Let people show you features about the waterway. Ask citizens to hold a coffee klatch or backyard barbecue so their neighbors can meet you and ask questions. Afterwards make a list of their problems, needs, and opportunities.
Interview community leaders and other influential members of the community. Provide a clear, realistic plan of action, including anticipated ramifications and implications for the community. Then, interview them using a list of standard questions and documenting the answers.
Use focus groups to seek opinions about specific management, infrastructure, development issues and potential conflicts. Typically, six participants or local experts and a moderator participate in a 90-minute, audiotaped discussion. This session can be a private or in front of an audience. At the end of the discussion, allow the audience to ask questions. The objective is to get the best advice in a short amount of time. Such sessions help you, honor the participants, and increase the project's public credibility.
Mail a survey to all landowners that may be affected by the water trail. Surveys are most effective and credible when a professional conducts them, but that can be costly. With your survey include maps, vision and mission statements, a chronology of what has transpired to date, answers to the most common questions, and a cover letter that is as personal as possible. Invite recipients to contact you by telephone or other means. Do a follow-up call or postcard seven to ten days after mailing the surveys.
Properly conducted—and well attended—public forums provide an excellent means of presenting plans to a community, receiving personal reactions, and gaining support for the project. Be sure to keep any promises that you make to the public!