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Home > The Gateways Network > Tools > Water Trail Toolbox > Planning a Water Trail > Water Trail Toolbox: Identifying Stakeholders
Water Trail Toolbox: Identifying Stakeholders

Water trails touch many shores: private landowners, government agencies, organizations, towns, businesses, conservation and recreation groups, historical and cultural groups, paddlers and other water sports enthusiasts. All of them may be stakeholders—individuals and groups that may affect or be affected by the proposed trail.

Stakeholders provide vital information about what is important to them. Your success may well depend on how much you involve them in the planning process, in resolving conflicts, and in developing a consensus.

Sometimes one stakeholder will view another stakeholder's need as a problem while a third will look at it as an opportunity or a different kind of need. For instance, a canoe paddlers' group might propose increasing the number of access points to the waterway. A farmer or riparian landowner may oppose adding access points because paddlers might camp on private lands and litter the landscape. A third stakeholder, however, might view increased usage as an opportunity to open a bed and breakfast or to establish a community park along the waterway.

The advisory, or steering, committee should identify the stakeholders and make notes of key players. Be sure to include those who may oppose the water trail project as well as those who are likely to support it.

Several key groups of stakeholders should be approached:

Adjacent Landowners

Individuals, businesses, and public agencies that own land along the waterway will definitely have a vested interest in the water trail project. Approach them early in the planning process. Gaining their insights, addressing their problems and needs, and building their support will pay huge dividends later on.

Trail Users

Water trails can accommodate boaters, fishermen, swimmers, and streamside users such as hikers, cyclists, hunters, horseback riders, picnickers, campers, and birdwatchers. Identify and approach paddlers' clubs and powerboat associations, outfitters and guides, cycling and hiking groups, naturalist and sportsmen groups, boating shops and marinas. Listen to their suggestions and encourage them to become active participants in the planning process.

Governmental Agencies

Federal, state, and local agencies will be very important partners. Enlist the help of conservation, recreation, and transportation officials who manage programs that might assist in developing the trail. They may be able to provide advice about resource inventories, access facility development, technical and financial assistance programs, and environmental or historic compliance issues.

These state program officials will help you coordinate with other conservation efforts near the water trail, and will help you connect with parallel efforts on other water trails in your state to learn from their experiences.

  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Greenways and Water Trails Program
  • New York Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission – PA Water Trail System
  • Pennsylvania Environmental Council - Water Trail Assistance Program
  • Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Communities and Elected Officials

Communities served by the proposed trail will have a stake in its success and will want to take action to benefit from the water trail. and minimize any negative impacts. The local tourism office, chamber of commerce, businesses, and officials can become significant trail partners and supporters. Local officials often are the key people to work with to gain access to a site, funding, and technical support. Be sure to inform them of any controversies and public opposition. Invite them to participate in ribbon cuttings and other events.

Nongovernmental Organizations

Water trail associations, environmental groups, land trusts, boater advocacy groups, scouts, and other groups involved in community affairs may become an important part of your user and volunteer bases. Some may even become partners or sponsors.


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