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These towns are made for walking

Photo courtesy Durango Area Tourism

An international organization for women pilots will keep its feet on the ground when holds a regional conference in Durango, Colo., next year.

The South Central and Southwest sections of the Ninety-Nines have, with the help of the Durango Area Tourism Office, created a conference that focuses as much on walking as on flying.

The group’s room block includes four hotels in Durango’s historic downtown that are about five minutes from one another, so the 150 attendees will have an excuse to take short strolls several times a day.

They’ll also get to choose lodging based on their tastes and budget, from the high-end, headquarters hotel, the historic Strater, to the mid-range Best Western Rio Grande.

When the attendees arrive, they’ll take a short walking tour, an hour or less, with volunteers from the Victorian Aid Society, who will tell them a bit about getting around town as well as some entertaining stories of pioneering women in Durango’s past.

Carrie Whitley, group and international sales manager for Durango Tourism, predicts it won’t take long for the women pilots to navigate her little town of 15,000 next to the Animas River and San Juan Mountains near the state’s southwest corner.

“I have to show them how easy it is to get around Durango and how much fun it is to get out and see this historic town,” said Whitley.

The nation’s largest cities — New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and others — get frequent kudos for being walkable. But dozens of small cities are equally appealing to walkers.

“Our downtown is not difficult to find things in because the buildings are low so you can visually get the lay of the land. I was in Denver recently and I felt like I was in a little canyon as I tried to find the Sheraton hotel,”said Whitley.

Meeting in a small town where walking is easy and enticing can simplify a meeting planner’s work and save money. In towns like Durango, there’s no need to rent a car unless you want to tour the outlying area. It is easy to plan group outings on foot or even turn attendees loose to entertain themselves.

In Durango, for example, a meeting attendee with a few hours to kill and a good pair of hiking shoes can be at any number of trail heads within five to 10 minutes of any downtown hotel.

(800) 525-8855

Here is a look at several other walkable cities:

Alexandria, Va.

There’s a reason AAA and others have touted Old Town Alexandria for its walkability.

“It was a planned city from the very start, one of the few older cities that was,” said Merrie Morris, director of public affairs for the Alexandria CVA. “If you go to Boston, it too is very old, but its historic area is a mishmash of little streets, some that dead end. When you come to Alexandria, it is not like that. Everything is very square and the blocks are the same size.”

Courtesy Alexandria CVA, a Web site that ranks cities and towns on just how easy it is to reach essential services on foot, gave Old Town a perfect score.

“It scored 100, because the site said that anything you want or need is in easy walking distance,” said Morris.

Being laid out logically is an aid to meeting attendees, but without hotels to meet in, it doesn’t mean much. That is not an issue in Old Town.

Amid the 4,200 historic structures that make up the country’s third-oldest historic district are about a dozen hotels, including three upscale Kimpton properties scattered along King Street, the main thoroughfare.

The newest is Kimpton’s Lorien Hotel and Spa; the hotel chain also operates the Hotel Monaco-Alexandria and the Morrison House Hotel.

In Old Town, visitors walk along surprisingly wide brick sidewalks.

“You can easily walk four across — sometimes six across, although near the waterfront the walkways are a little narrower,” said Morris.

There are all manner of walking tours, including ghost tours April through October, and sights to see like the Torpedo Factory, where 80 artists are at work in their galleries, or the Carlyle House, a Georgian-style manor home.

Groups can dine together at Gadsby’s Tavern, just as George Washington often did with his friends and peers.

Public transportation makes visitors even more willing to leave their cars at home. A free trolley transports those with tired feet from the river up to the King Street Metro station, a little over a mile.

At the river, boats can be booked for trips to Georgetown, Mount Vernon and the new Gaylord hotel development, National Harbor.

(703) 838-4200

Corning, N.Y.
Two museums, including the much-heralded Corning Museum of Glass, make downtown Corning, N.Y., a small city worth a walk.

Downtown’s conference hotel, the Radisson Hotel Corning, is well located and well suited to small meetings, with 10,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel sits at one end of the L-shaped Gaffer District, named for the master glassblowers who gave the city its reputation as a center for glassmaking and glass art.

Courtesy Steuben County CVB

Within the eight-block district are about 120 service businesses — restaurants, bars, gift shops, banks and a pharmacy — about anything a meeting planner would need, one reason downtown Corning earned a 95 from

The Steuben County Convention and Visitors Bureau can arrange architectural walking tours, gallery hops, progressive dinners and shopping tournaments for groups that meet at the Radisson.

The Gaffer District is fairly flat, and much attention has been paid to accessibility.
“The Gaffer District is the first wheelchair-accessible historic district,” said Danielle Roman, director of marketing and sales for the Steuben County CVB. “More than 85 percent of the business storefronts are wheelchair accessible.”

A pedestrian bridge across the Chemung River takes visitors to the Corning museum. It is far more than a spot to see sparkling glass objects.

“There are about 30 glass-blowing demonstrations a day and anyone who visits the museum can make their own glass,” said Roman.

That includes groups. Because the museum has multiple instructors, within an hour every member of a group of 40 can make a holiday ornament, a suncatcher or other piece of glass art.
Also within walking distance of the Gaffer District is the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, a collection of a local businessman that was donated to the city and is housed in the old city hall.

(866) 946-3386

Burlington, Vt.
With Lake Champlain to its west and the Green Mountains to its east, some look at Vermont’s largest city and see geographical similarities to Seattle.

Others think of Paris as they navigate the cobblestone walkways of historic Church Street, an eight-block pedestrian mall lined with shops and cafes.

Its sophistication, wrought by the presence of four college campuses, including the University of Vermont, belies Burlington’s small size.

Burlington is the state’s largest city, but its population of 44,000 makes it seem more like a town.
“It’s a city — by Vermont standards.” said James Tabor, a public relations representative for the state.

In a state known for its ecological bent, it is no surprise that Burlington is marketed as “a city where you can come for a vacation and put the car away,” said Tabor.

The same goes for meeting attendees thanks to the location of the city’s primary meeting hotels, the Burlington Hilton and the Courtyard by Marriott Burlington Harbor.

Both are four blocks from Church Street and three to five minutes from the Lake Champlain waterfront, where boat cruises launch, the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center can be booked for special events or meeting goers can walk off the tensions of a long day by striding along the Burlington Bike Path, which stretches for miles along the lake. Ten years in the making, it is still being expanded.

(802) 863-3489

Ventura, Calif.
In the past decade, Ventura’s historic heart has gotten a lot healthier. In downtown proper, about a square mile in area, 50 retailers and 70 restaurants and bars have opened their doors. Artisan chefs inhabit refurbished historic storefronts, squeezing local lemons to make limoncello and filleting fish bought at the local harbor for diners’ dinners.

Ventura’s success at making the most of its coastal downtown caused the California Downtown Association to hold a cultural and heritage symposium there two years ago.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel Ventura Beach, which sits at the end of California Street, Ventura’s main street, served as headquarters.  A favorite feature is a 12th-floor ballroom with windows looking out to sea.

Symposium attendees learned that Prevention magazine was correct in ranking Ventura one of 125 cities best suited for fitness and walking.

Docents led them on walking tours of the downtown, but attendees could also avail themselves of the many self-guided tours the visitors bureau has developed, including a Vintage Ventura tour that incorporates antiques and vintage shops and historic inns.
They could also take a walk or run on a 13-mile coastal trail.

(800) 333-2989