Study promotes benefits of trail system

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A system of trails in seven Southwest Virginia counties could be a big draw for tourists, according to a new study.

The five-month study of the proposed Spearhead Trail system — funded through a grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission — concluded that an interconnected public trail system for hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts would draw an additional 200,000 visitors to the region each year, injecting $30 million into the local economy and creating 300 to 500 full-time jobs within 10 years.

The trail system would also offer opportunities to diversify the economy of the coalfields region, with the development of businesses such as outfitters, supply stores, campgrounds, hotels, restaurants and shuttle services.

Steve Galyean, director of development for Partnership Alliance Marketing with the Virginia Tourism Corp., says that the study should help the proposal attract private investment and federal and state grants. The initiative will require $7 million to improve existing trails, build new ones and staff the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority, which was created by the General Assembly to oversee the development and operation of the Spearhead Trails system.

Galyean says the Spearhead Trail plan is modeled after West Virginia’s highly successful Hatfield-McCoy Trail System. The Virginia trail system will take advantage of existing assets in the region, such as coal lines, timber roads, state parks, a national forest and hundreds of miles of existing trails.

The study noted that the region also has other assets, such as stops on the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail plus many museums and other cultural and historic sites.  Those attraction are expected to help build visitation on the trail system, which is expected to open in 2012.

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