CANTON — Merchants in Canton are forming an association to better showcase all that the town’s business community has to offer.

Jeanne Forrest, a real estate agent who recently moved to town and was looking for a way to use her considerable business experience, is helping spearhead the effort.

Developments at Chestnut Mountain Park and Berm Park, a mountain bike trail system within the park, signal a new era in Canton, Forrest said, and it’s one filled with opportunity.

Plans are already in place to develop the 450-acre Chestnut Mountain area into an outdoor mecca that will include hiking and biking trails, camping/picnic areas, a tyke bike park, an event space with a pavilion and a place where those of all ages will be able to enjoy the outdoors. Biking trails should be ready this year.

“What surprised me was the number of local folks who didn’t even know about Berm Park and Chestnut Mountain Park,” Forrest said. “I felt, as a number of merchants do, there is an opportunity here. Folks will be within 1.5 miles of our downtown area. We want to make sure they know they can sit on water, have a beer, hit up a few stores, have a meal, visit the rec park. There’s a lot happening, and we want to make sure visitors know about it.”

The group started meeting monthly in March, but soon realized it would be necessary to meet more often. The Canton, N.C., Merchants group is co-chaired by Michaela Lowe with Southern Porch, and Kelly Allred with Wildflour Blue. Forrest is the secretary, Allison McDowell with Willow Hill Soap and Ellen Selm with Middle Path Nutrition and Wellness Center make up the marketing committee, and accountant Jay Burleson is the treasurer.

“The whole idea is that nobody knows better what businesses need in Canton than businesses that are here in Canton,” Forrest said. “We want to be able to drive the decisions, and determine focus of group and what projects are most important to us.”

Plans include sponsoring more events in town and taking better advantage of events that regularly occur. For instance, the Thursday afternoon/evening farmers market at Smathers Square is an excellent opportunity for businesses to stay open later. At a Monday meeting, merchants discussed possible ways to build on the July 5 and Labor Day festivities and draw people deeper into the downtown area.

“With COVID, there hasn’t been a lot going on in town,” Forrest said, “but we expect that to change with the opening of Berm Park and Chestnut Mountain Park. We want to make sure that when these parks open we are doing everything possible to capture some new traffic we haven’t seen in Canton before. “

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