Regions Southwest Virginia

Alleghany Highlands’ outdoor activities touted

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli

Brad Pitt paved the way for Demian Wiles. Pitt’s movie “A River Runs Through It” helped popularize fly fishing in the 1990s, allowing Wiles to make a career as a fishing guide. He is the owner of First Light Outfitters in Ronceverte, W.Va., a fishing guide service that often serves customers in Virginia’s Alleghany Highlands, home to a wide variety of outdoor activities such as fishing, biking, hiking and horseback riding.

The Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism is ramping up its efforts to promote outdoor tourism. The organization recently launched websites to promote the area’s trails ( and blueway (

“I think both of these initiatives encourage visitors to dine in restaurants, shop in stores and stay in inns and will bring more people to the area,” says Teresa Hammond, executive director of the chamber.

According to the organization, the initiatives are designed to make it easier for visitors to learn about the outdoor activities available in the area and to have a safe and fun experience during their visit. For example, the trails website gives visitors safety tips for hitting the trails, such as staying hydrated and carrying a first-aid kit.

The chamber also is promoting two new outdoor events this year. In June, the area will host the first Jackson River Scenic Trail Half Marathon, 10K and 1-Mile Family Fun Run, which provides views of the Allegheny Mountains and the Jackson River. August will bring the Lake Moomaw One Mile Swim. Those initiatives join two other bike events and a triathlon already in place in the area.

The Alleghany Highlands is made up of Alleghany County, the city of Covington and towns of Clifton Forge and Iron Gate. Approximately half of the land in the Alleghany Highlands is within the national forests.

Wiles estimates that during a busy season he takes as many 60 trips to Escatawba Farms, a popular fly-fishing destination in Alleghany County. Escatawba’s owner, Derrick Barr, says most of his customers come from urban areas ranging from as far away as Sweden to Northern Virginia and North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

“It’s a great sport,” Barr says of fly-fishing. “The great thing about it is you have to concentrate on what you’re doing so much, you forget all your problems.”

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