A crowd of over 20 people gathered at the 2019 Eastern Kentucky Trail Town Winter Conference hosted at the East Kentucky Manufacturing Institute in Paintsville on Dec. 6.

Attendees included representatives from Johnson, Lawrence, Madison, Magoffin, Floyd, Pike and Perry counties.

The conference served to emphasize the necessity of setting a regional pace for adventure tourism, including the connectivity of bike, river, hiking, horse, ATV and hard surface trails across county lines.

The event was opened by Paintsville/Johnson County Trail Town Catalyst Lara Pack, Johnson County Judge-Executive Mark McKenzie, Louisa Mayor Harold Slone, Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton and Rep. Chris Fugate, a member of the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority.

 “We want people to come from all over for all those different things because we have all that to offer,” said Fugate.

Presentations were given by each Trail Town committee attending the event addressing their plans for 2020, which emphasized growth and synergy, and Louisa/Lawrence County Trail Town Coordinator Cathy Wells also presented on marketing adventure tourism in our region.

During a lunch session, many of the county representatives spoke about the strong need for working together to establish adventure tourism in the region.

“The whole thing is, we’ve got to work at it,” said Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton. “We can’t just work as a single community. We’ve got to work together on this because people don’t want to come in here and just ride one trail or hike one trail. They might want to do a trail here and then want to do a water trail or rock climbing, not just one particular outdoor-adventure. Once we start tying all of those together throughout the whole region we could bring people in here and have them for a weeks time. Tourism across the state is one of the top four industries. We’ve got the opportunities to really come together because we have working people here.”

Vince Doty, deputy judge-executive of Lawrence County, echoed Mayor Stapleton’s sentiment.

“I think it’s vital for all counties involved. I think if we can get a system linked up together it would be a huge advantage to everybody. We can go from the rivers long. I really think it is vital for everybody to be hooked up to it because it will succeed individually, but if we can get everybody hooked up together, I think it will thrive and bring so much economic development.”

Magoffin County Judge-Executive Matthew Wireman offered his thoughts as well.

“We’ve got to connect Eastern Kentucky,” Wireman said. “We’ve got to have economic development and tourism is key to that.  A lot of the times when I’ve went and talked to perspective businesses, what I’ve found is they don’t want to come to a place where they don’t have things to do. So our niche now, after the mining industry has went out, is, pretty much, adventure tourism type things. With this regional authority that Rep. Fugate talked about, the ATV connectivity can be a major boom. We’ve got to have that. It takes money to make money and we have got to have money to grow. What we are seeing right now is instead of bringing people here and the population stabilizing, we’re seeing it goes down the road and it takes the money with it.

“This is very doable,” Wireman continued. “It’s already been done. We connect horse trails and bike trails, walking trails and ATV trails and we become a trail destination. The Hatfield & McCoy and Spearhead Trails in West Virginia and Virginia, those people that go there are looking for new places like golfers go to new golf courses. We’ve got to build tourism up.”

During the closing of the event, the group discussed electing an Executive Committee and obtaining a tax-exempt status under Kentucky 501 (c)(3).

The next Eastern Kentucky Trail Town Conference will be held in Beattyville on April 1, 2020.

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