Convention and Visitors Bureau will get assistance to bring in outdoor tourists

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2022

Lawrence County is going to get help to bring in recreational tourists to help improve the local economy.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the Lawrence County Convention and Visitors Bureau and its partners had been accepted into an assistance program.

Marty Conley, director of the Lawrence County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said they had applied for it last fall and “we didn’t get it. But you don’t get everything.”
This year was different.

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“I got a phone call about a month ago from a representative from the Appalachian Regional Commission who had seen our application,” Conley said.

ARC is designed to help out Appalachian counties and it had joined forces with U.S. EPA and other agencies to help create economic opportunities in communities by using Recreation Economy for Rural Communities assistance program.

And Lawrence County was one of 25 small and rural communities across the U.S. to be helped out by the program.

“We are very excited,” Conley said, adding that they have formed a steering committee to determine what recreational resources the county has, such as Wayne National Forest and the Ohio River, and what can be done to improve access to those resources to make it more attractive to outdoor tourists. With more tourists comes more economic possibilities for local businesses.
Conley said the steering committee is made up of six people who will get the process started.

“It will grow as we do more things with folks from around the county,” he said. Next spring, they will start having a series of meetings with a consultant group called Revised Strategies.

A federal planning team will work with the steering committee over the course of four to six months, with a two-day facilitated community workshop as the focal point.

Participants will work together to develop strategies and an action plan to grow their local outdoor recreation economies.

“We will start off with three Zoom meetings, talk about the area, talk about what we have here and what we need here. We are going to boil it down to what are our recreational assets and are they impacting the economy, and if they are not, how can they,” Conley explained. Then, the consulting group will come to Lawrence County and check out things like the towns and WNF. “The purpose is to get pointed in the right direction for funding, for the assets we need for outdoor recreation. This whole thing is about outdoor recreation and impacting the community economically.”

Conley said this was a good time to hear about getting this assistance.

He had been working with the Voinovich Center about a recreation plan and they were about to go public to get some feedback from the public.

“We’ve never really had a recreation plan, so it really looks like things are lining up,” Conley said. “The recreation plan will be a bonus add on as we push along. We are going to strip everything down and build it back up.”

Recreational tourism has become a big business opportunity for Appalachia with ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin citing statistics that the travel and tourism industry brings in $4.5 billion in local tax revenue to the region as well as employing over a half-million people.

The Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) program builds on our region’s economic development potential by investing in Appalachia’s local heritage and natural assets, which will lead to more vibrant downtowns and expanded growth for outdoor recreation industries,” Manchin said.