New tourism projects growing in Central Appalachia

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." 

Elkhorn City, in Pike County, KY, has also seen the benefits of cyclists. The town sits on the TransAmerica Trail, which runs from the Virginia coast all the way to the Pacific in Oregon. It's also capitalizing on its world-class whitewater, which attracts paddlers from places as far away as New Zealand, according to one town leader at a session on tourism at the Appalachia's Bright Future conference in April. It might seem like just paddling along a river or biking through town might not bring in the big bucks, but as the town leader pointed out, if you've got the resources to fly halfway across the world, or to take six months off work to bike across the US, you've got money to spend. Recent data from the state of Kentucky on tourism spending showed that in 2012, Pike County raked in over $100 million in tourism spending.


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.