VANCEBURG -- With hunting and fishing opportunities, hills perfect for trail development for ATV's, horses, biking and hiking, Lewis County has the adventure -- now it needs the tourism.
Tuesday evening, approximately 50 people attended the first ever Lewis County Tourism Summit. The purpose of the summit was to discuss opportunities in adventure tourism.
Lewis County Economic Development Director Patrick Collins opened the summit with a few introductory remarks. He explained that while he will still pursue more typical economic development in the form of factories the time for attracting large companies has passed, with many companies now placing factories overseas. Collins said the goal now is to capitalize on the resources Lewis County has that others do not -- resources like beautiful land and dedicated citizens.
Collins reviewed things the county could do to spur economic development. One idea Judge-Executive Thomas Massie and Collins are working on is called "Fish 18 holes on Kinniconick."
The idea would be to use FEMA buy-out property along Kinniconick Creek to develop sites with boat ramps, parking areas, picnic tables and other amenities, Collins said.
There are existing sites with picnic tables on FEMA buy-out property, but the plan would bring together existing sites with new sites.
A grant application is pending for funds for two sites.
Collins said a "19th hole" possibility is the Ohio River.
The Rough Riders Saddle Club based in Garrison was also recognized for its ongoing efforts to develop trails for riding.
Collins spoke of the possibility of developing more trails for horses, biking, hiking and ATV's, and the needs that would have to be met to accommodate those who came to use the trails.
Collins used as an example those who come to Lewis County to hunt. They may lease land for hunting, but they do not stay in the county, instead spending their money in Portsmouth, Ohio or Maysville.
"They need to be staying here in the county, eating here in the county, buying their sporting goods and everything they need while they're here in town," Collins said.
However, the real testament to the success of adventure tourism came from the speakers who followed Collins, among them Preston McClain with the Kentucky Recreational Trails Authority, Ginny Grulke with the Kentucky Horse Council, Elaine Wilson with the Office of Adventure Tourism, Mandy Hart with the Center for Appalachian Philanthropy and Steve Barbour with Sheltowee and Jenny Wiley trails.
McClain shared the success story of Harlan County with its development of ATV trails. Also, he said ziplining created excitement.
The park is 7,200 acres and not only are four-wheelers welcome, but jeeps and dirt bikes.
McClain said the county averages 48,000 visitors per year and the trails have brought in new businesses and created 61.5 jobs. The numbers McClain shared spanned three years, from 2005-2008, but have increased since then, he said.
"The numbers I gave you are great, sounds good ... but it's not going to be an easy road," he said.
The county and its residents will have to work hard mostly on its own, though may get some aid through organizations.
McClain also spoke of liability insurance needs, since ATV riding is a dangerous sport. The county has experienced lawsuits, McClain said, including a pending one filed by the family of a man killed while riding an ATV. The man was not wearing a helmet, McClain said.
Overall, McClain said the county is making more money.
"Before this happened, we were exchanging dollars, now there's new money coming in," he said.
McClain issued a warning for West Virginia, which has experienced immense success with adventure tourism. The state, a major coal mining state, now employs more than double the amount of employees in adventure tourism than it does in coal mining -- 44,000 compared to 17,000.
"Watch out West Virginia, here we come," he said.
Grulke said though Kentucky is known for its race horses, there are more trail horses in the state than any other kind of horse.
Grulke shared demographic information for horse riders -- including baby boomers are driving the numbers. Grulke said baby boomers like to locate in Kentucky when they retire because the land is affordable, it's the horse capital of the world, it's in the mid-south region and the climate is good.
She also shared information from the 2008 Virginia Equine Trial Survey which indicated riders would book a package trip if other features were involved, such as a performance by a Bluegrass band. Horse riders tend to enjoy wildlife watching, local history, crafts, music, farm visits and more.
The key to marketing, Grulke said, is typically word of mouth. Other marketing works as well, though to a lesser degree. Grulke said people need to come once, they hopefully will decide to come again and will tell their friends.
Wilson shared the story of Damascus, Va., a town once thriving with timber and coal industry, but had "dried up" and shrunk to a population of 300.
After becoming a "trail town," the town of 300 people suddenly had nine bike shops, Wilson said. To compare, Vanceburg has nearly 1,500 people and no bike shops.
Wilson said residents of the town figured out how to connect with those coming to ride the trails. Many were easy, such as putting bike racks in front of businesses. Business owners tried to find ways to catch the eye and attract the tourist in.
"You have to be trail friendly," she said.
Hart spoke of the programs within the Center for Appalachian Philanthropy and what it hopes to do in Lewis County, particularly with AppaKids, a program to teach kids about their heritage, and Made in Appalachia, the purpose of which is to promote Appalachian-made items.
The center will be moving into the Carter house and will also have an entrepreneurship training area and bed and breakfast.
Sen. Robin Webb and Rep. Jill York also attended the meeting and expressed their support for Lewis County's efforts.
Massie encouraged everyone to bring the dialogue of adventure tourism home and said the county needs to pull together to make it happen.
"I just wanted to share my excitement for this and I'll do everything I can to make it happen," he said. "We've got the treasure, it's here, we've just got to share it with the rest of the world."