For decades, the rugged landscape of Appalachia was a challenge.
That is no longer the case. It has the opportunity to become the destination for all those seeking adventure.
And we intend to capitalize on it — together.
The topic of Trail Tourism and Entrepreneurship will anchor the plenary session of SOAR’s first-ever Mini Summit, presented by Kentucky Power, on March 7-8 in Ashland. These panel discussions are powered by the Kentucky Small Business Development Center and Marathon Petroleum.
The pathway to becoming a destination
In 2000, the idea of a robust trail system came to fruition in the southern coalfields of West Virginia. The Hatfield-McCoy Trails started as 100 miles of trails for off-highway, or ATV, riding.
Fast forward some two decades later, the trail system is made up of over 1,000 miles of ATV trails. Riders wind through communities offering unique sites and sounds that complement the mountain views.
Jeff Lusk, the Executive Director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, will serve on a panel discussion during the plenary session of the SOAR Mini Summit on March 8 at the Paramount Arts Center. The collaborative work that created this trail system is taking shape across Eastern Kentucky with the launch of the First Frontier Appalachian Trails.
Scott Smith, the executive director of the First Frontier Appalachian Trails, will join Erik Hubbard, the founder of Backroads of Appalachia, and Matthew Able, trail manager of the Daniel Boone National Forest, in the discussion. David Adkisson, who retired as president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in 2019, will moderate the session.
If you build it, they will come
Like Eastern Kentucky, the coalfields of Southern West Virginia have been impacted by the decline of coal and industry supporting jobs. Communities that were once coal towns or coal camps came together to embrace the idea of a regional trail system. Just as the coal left the mountains to fuel America’s industrial revolution, visitors are now flocking to these hills for adventure.
In 2019, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System had a $38 million impact on the region and supported 430 full-time jobs, nearly doubling the jobs created in 2014.
Hubbard is also a visionary. He started backroads of Appalachia in 2019 as a way to promote the backroads of the region to motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. The organization is based in the Harlan County community of Lynch, a former coal camp that is also home to the Portal 31 Exhibition Coal Mine. The town is also home to the Dragon Slayer Welcome Center.
Backroads of Appalachia has trademarked three motorsport trails across central Appalachia, with the most notable being the Dragon Slayer Highway 160. This winds through the heart of Letcher and Harlan counties and into Southwest Virginia.
In 2021, Hubbard estimates the organization has had an economic impact of more than $7 million with more than 25,000 visitors.
We aren’t starting from scratch
While there is much work focused on the development of trail systems throughout Eastern Kentucky, the Daniel Boone National Forest has been attracting hikers for decades. The 708,000-acre area runs from Rowan County south into McCreary County and as far east as Leslie County.
According to a 2018 study, the Daniel Boone National Forest brought more than 1.2 million visitors to the region. This equated into a $49 million annual impact.
Destinations are created by entrepreneurs
The second panel discussion during the SOAR Mini Summit will focus on Tourism and Entrepreneurship.
Kristina Joyce, the Director of the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, will moderate the discussion with a group of entrepreneurs that represent a variety of unique adventures.
Jason Camp and his wife, Elisabeth, are the owners of the Camp Landing Entertainment District. They purchased the former Kyova Mall and are undergoing a massive development of the property to become an entertainment destination in Eastern Kentucky and the Tri-State region. The development just opened the Malibu Jack’s Indoor Theme Park and remodeled a 10-screen, stadium-seating movie theater.
In the future, they plan to build a 120,000 square-foot sports complex, convention center, a hotel, and various eating establishments on the property.
Dustin Cornett is the owner of the Chocolat Inn and Cafe in Beattyville. Dustin, who grew up in Lee County, met his wife, Mai, while working in Japan. They decided to move to the United States with the idea of perhaps settling on the west coast. When Mai visited Lee County, she fell in love with the community, and the Chocolat Inn and Cafe idea came to fruition.
Each room of the Inn is themed from global destinations Dustin and Mai have visited. There’s London, Paris, and the joining rooms represent East and West Berlin.
The Cafe is just as unique as the Inn. Dustin makes hand-crafted chocolate from cocoa beans. This unique treat is paired with Mai’s creative and handmade cakes and pastries to give those adventuring in the Red River Gorge a different adventure — a culinary one.
Tiffany Scott doesn’t mind taking a risk. So much so that she opened her General Store in the middle of a pandemic and moved to a larger location just months later. The secret? Small town charm and catering to the thousands of visitors traveling across Pine Mountain to hike, bike, and motorcycle.
The General Store at Pine Mountain Crossing has all the makings of a five and dime that you would find in Branson, but with an Appalachian flare. Tiffany sells products spanning across Appalachia, from fresh meats and bread, to sweet treats, jellies, and jam. The taste of Appalachia is matched with the region’s hospitality. It’s her secret to success.
Register now for the Mini Summit
We’ve put together an action-packed two days of programming, networking, and entertainment. Learn more about our event, how to register, and view discounted lodging options HERE.