A new group in State College called "Trailhead" is working to make Centre County a more vibrant, interesting place to live.
Spud Marshall, a local entrepreneur who wears many different hats, was hiking with his dog, Bodi, at Rothrock State Forest when he got the idea for Trailhead. He realized there was no place in Centre County that acted as a guide for community engagement and change, like a trailhead sign guides a hiker to a trail.
Through his work with the community, he said people often tell him they don’t feel connected.
He said they say things like, “‘I just wound up here; I got sucked into State College.' Or, 'I’m stuck in the Beaver Avenue bubble; I actually don’t know much about the Centre County.' Or 'Oh, it’s always a football town; it’s always a drinking town.’”
That’s where Trailhead comes in, he said.
“Trailhead serves one common purpose: how do we make Centre County an awesome place to call home?” Marshall said.
The idea behind Trailhead is simple. Open a house in downtown State College to be something like a visitor’s center and gathering place for people who live in Centre County. Then, get together a bunch of friends who are interested in seeing cool things happen in the community. Have them all chip in $100 a month to fund a $1,000 grant every month.
For example, Marshall said, if you love rock climbing but can’t find other people to go with, check out the Trailhead house.
“A trailhead guide will be able to say, 'Hey, here’s this individual. They have these secret bouldering trips that they do once a week type of thing. You should get involved with them,'” he said.
Marshall said Centre County is the perfect place to try something like Trailhead, because people can see the change they want to effect without getting lost in the crowd of a big city.
“A community like State College, and especially other university towns, have this perfect blend of both worlds, right. You have all the resources, you have all the culture of a big city and the dimensions of a small town,” he said.
Marshall and his team put out the call for Trailhead in February, and within a month they had 30 people signed up to be founding members.
Once they find a house to rent, Marshall said the Trailhead team will all pitch in to renovate it.
“I really think that community-driven initiatives where everybody’s lending a hand in some way, in that barn-raising capacity, have way more longevity and sustainability to them,” he said.
Everything Marshall talks about centers on community. Every month, he and his wife host a potluck to bring people from different parts of the community together.
In April, they were brainstorming ideas for projects to submit to Trailhead for $1,000 grants.
Ideas that got tossed around ranged from the practical, to the silly.
One group discussed how to break up hate groups and channel that energy into something productive.
“Community band camp," said Matthew Swayne, a science and research information officer at Penn State. "Community band camp..." echoed his wife Janice, assistant director of administration at Penn State.
"For racists," he added.
The group burst into laughter.
Other groups talked about ways to make streets safer for pedestrians, and how to help lonely people in the community.
One group had an idea to spread positivity. They said they would declare a super friendly waving day, where everyone in town would be encouraged to wave to each other. And, one designated person would have $100 in their pocket.
“So if I wave at the right person, then boom, it pays to be friendly, like it literally pays 100 bucks to be friendly,” said Irene Miller, vice president of membership engagement at the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County.
“And one person, every Wednesday for 10 Wednesdays, is gonna get like a gift certificate or something for 100 bucks,” added Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins.
Some of these ideas may become a reality. The first grant selection party for Trailhead will be May 30, and a winner will be announced Friday, June 1.
But the deadline for submissions is rolling, so anyone can submit an idea at any time, and the Trailhead team will award a grant to the best idea every month.
Marshall said he can envision Trailhead expanding to different parts of the county, giving each different community the ability to gather and produce change-making ideas.
“What if you had these—equivalent of a ranger’s station—in communities all over the place,” he said. “So you’ve got one out in Boalsburg. You’ve got one out in Pine Grove Mills. Like, they’re kind of scattered around the town so that, you know, ‘Oh yeah, the Trailhead. That’s where I go to meet, to find people who want to shake up the status quo and do some really innovative things together.’”