Northern and Central Appalachia: Expanding Tourism Through Outdoor Recreation  

Building regional culture and tourism is one of ARC’s five investment priorities, with a particular focus placed on increasing outdoor recreation opportunities. The variety of activities offered in Appalachia’s forests, parks, rivers, and mountains attract millions of visitors each year, create job opportunities for residents, and help build local businesses.   

ARC invested $12 million in regional culture and tourism projects in fiscal year 2021 and, in October 2022, invested another nearly $7 million through our POWER Initiative

Preserving and expanding nature and culture is repeatedly mentioned as a key strength by ARC partners and Appalachian community members, especially those economically diversifying coal-impacted areas. Eight new POWER projects are leaning into that strategy by finalizing trails, creating experience packages and marketing plans, constructing top-tier campgrounds, and more.  

Making Connections 

Several October 2022 POWER grantees are working to complete trail projects and take the final steps needed to offer robust outdoor recreation experiences. In Venango County, Pennsylvania, over $1.38 million will help to close gaps in connectivity among both the Erie to Pittsburgh and PA Wilds Loop trails. Both trails are part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, an initiative to connect the area’s population centers. Meanwhile, a $665,000 grant help Henry County, Virginia complete the last mile of an existing 2.96-mile gap in the Dick & Willie Passage Trail, Virginia’s longest public trail! 

Other POWER projects are focusing on trail planning and construction, including a $50,000 award to the City of Elkins, West Virginia to develop a blueprint for bike-optimized trails on five properties throughout Randolph County. Down in Summersville, West Virginia, Region 4 Planning & Development Council is using $1.5 million to construct 27 miles of singletrack trail optimized for mountain biking. Finally, a $46,838 grant will go to the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky in Hazard, Kentucky for their regional trails planning project, which aims to create a comprehensive outdoor adventure development, marketing, and maintenance plan for Southeast Kentucky. 

Creating a Tourism Experience 

Appalachian communities have experienced tourism growth following the COVID-19 pandemic, as visitors seek out new options for outdoor experiences. Several of this year’s POWER projects hope to continue to build on that opportunity. Another $48,422 will go to the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky to coordinate tourism initiatives in Southeast Kentucky to build and market regional experience packages. Kentucky’s Perry County Fiscal Court also received $1.5 million to support outdoor recreation and tourism by constructing 30 RV campground sites with full hookups, communal facilities, and on-site infrastructure. The campground will serve as the trailhead for Perry County’s ATV trails. Additionally, the New River Valley Regional Commission in Fairlawn, Virginia received $1.5 million to construct and improve four public launches along the New River Water Trail, a regional anchor for river recreation.  

Together, the eight projects are anticipated to attract thousands of new visitors to Appalachia and create hundreds of miles of trails for them to explore, alongside a variety of additional outdoor activities. Be sure to visit one of these communities to see POWER in action soon!