While most of us have known about the beautiful outdoors opportunities in Central Appalachia for some time, it seems that recently the region's tourism efforts have been really stepping it up. And according to research out of Oregon, capitalizing on the eco-economy is a good idea. The Daily Yonder reported recently that mountain biking events in one Oregon community brought in "$2.6 million in direct tourism spending, $3.7 million in sales and 52 local jobs. This comes only weeks after Travel Oregon issued a report showing a $400 million annual economic impact from bike-related travel."
Letcher County, KY and communities on the Clinch River of in Southwest Virginia are also hoping to attract tourists. Headwaters, Inc. wants to add a water trail to Letcher County's ATV and hiking trails, utilizing the calm waters of the North Fork of the Kentucky River. The Clinch River Valley Initiative commissioned a study on the potential impacts of a potential Clinch River State Park along the river that estimates the park could bring in $2.3 million a year and create 23 local jobs post-construction.
Of course there are models of tourism destinations that most communities wouldn't want to emulate, with masses of billboards, traffic and strip-mall franchises. But when local entrepreneurs are given the tools and support they need to develop their own businesses, and if local communities are involved in planning and development decisions, tourism can be a strong building block to a vibrant, diversified economy.