by Heather B. Hayes
Tourism and economic development officials in Southwest Virginia are taking steps to get national recognition for the 325-mile Virginia Coal Heritage Trail.
The Virginia General Assembly created the trail in 2007 to promote tourism in Southwest Virginia. The trail runs through seven coalfield counties and features museums along with former mines, coal camps and company stores.
Now efforts are under way to have the Federal Highway Administration designate the trail as a scenic byway. That status would allow communities along the route to apply for federal grants to enhance historic sites and to gain access to discretionary funding programs run by the highway administration. The trail would also be included in marketing campaigns run by the National Scenic Byway Program.
“People are already driving the trail and enjoying what it has to offer, but have we even begun to tap into its potential? No,” says Debby Spencer, president of We Make Things Happen, a rural tourism development firm based in Bowling Green, Ky. The Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority hired the firm to develop the corridor management plan required for the trail to be considered for National Scenic Byway status.
Spencer expects to have a final draft of the plan ready for review this month by communities along the trail. The goal is to have the application package ready for submission by Jan. 1 — despite the fact that no one knows exactly when the highway administration will announce another call for applications.
“We want to be ready to go even before they announce,” Spencer says. “We don’t want to take any chances that we missed the deadline or the opportunity.”
Scenic byway designation could be a boon for regional tourism, she says. Since West Virginia’s National Coal Heritage Trail was named a National Scenic Byway, it has generated $3.4 million in tourist spending annually. “Virginia has the potential to do even more because it’s got a lot of infrastructure already in place that West Virginia didn’t have initially,” Spencer says.
The Virginia Coal Heritage Trail intersects other tourism routes, including the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, the Daniel Boone Trail and the Bicentennial Bike Route.
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