On The Trail: Northam, ARC Representatives Sample Southwest Virginia Outdoor Tourism | New
ST. PAUL – Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan have been gossiping after Tuesday’s Appalachian Regional Commission meeting.
The mud thrown was not political but real as both commission members and staff experienced part of the Spearhead Trails mountain bike network above St. Paul.
The city has worked in recent years to develop restaurants and hotel / hostel spaces to meet the needs of ATV riders and hikers. Spearhead – established as the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority in 2008 – has developed networks of horseback riding and hiking trails in the far southwest of Virginia to connect with downtown tourism development efforts.
“We are holding this conference in a location focused on the outdoor recreation economy,” Northam said of Tuesday’s ARC meeting before he, Hogan and ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin , don helmets and hop on ATVs for a taste of the Spearhead Network. “Outdoor recreation creates jobs and income, attracts and retains talent in the region. “
Spearhead needs paid licenses to use the ATV trails to fund the maintenance and construction of new trails, but Janet Settle with the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority gave Northam and his wife, Pam, lifetime licenses. and helmets before taking the trail.
“Obviously, tourism is important,” Northam said earlier. “The numbers have broken records this year because people want to go out and get around. This is simply a great opportunity to invest more in the Appalachians. “
While recent rains left small puddles on parts of the trail and some drivers offered to muddy Northam, Manchin and Hogan, they returned to their starting point at the Western Front Hotel with only slight splashes.
During the morning meeting, Governors, Manchin and RCAF staff also learned more about the importance of outdoor tourism entrepreneurs as Breaks Interstate Park Superintendent Austin Bradley, and St. Paul’s outfitter, Maddie Gordon, explained how the private and public sectors depend on each other.
Breaks is co-administered by Virginia and Kentucky, and Bradley said initial efforts to boost climbing in the park depended on communication with outfitters and adventure companies outside of the immediate two-state area.
“We have the raw product,” Bradley said. “We just need outfitters to pack it up.”
In recent years, Bradley said, Gordon’s Clinch Life Outfitters and others have been part of a growing industry in the region. Attempts by conservation officials in Virginia and Kentucky to bring a native elk population back to the area signify yet another attraction for the park, he said, and Breaks has modernized its accommodation and developed a system of Zipline.
From her perspective, Gordon – who ended up winning a business challenge competition in St. Paul in 2016 after her mother entered her into the event – said the growth of the ecotourism in Southwest Virginia has been amazing. Virginia’s designation of Clinch River State Park also gave businesses more opportunities to support kayaking and hiking in the park’s various locations along the river – what Gordon called “a necklace of. pearls’ for the region’s tourism industry.
“In our guestbook we have people from 25 states and three countries,” Gordon told commission members. “St. Paul is trying to be a role model for ecotourism. We want people to come to St. Paul, but we also want to protect endangered species along the Clinch River.