Category Archives: Economic Development

If we build it they will come! But wait … their already here! Tourism in Elkhorn City

I enjoy keeping track of Elkhorn City’s blossoming tourism industry. The past couple of weekends I have been going by the Ratliff Hole River access and looking at all the license plates from different states and counties. On Saturday July, we had visitors from as far away as Utah and a minanite family of 8 from Indiana. There were also tourists from North Carolina (3 cars), Tennessee (2 cars), Michigan (4 cars), Ohio (3 cars), and in state tourists from Fayette county, Knott County, Perry County, Lawrence County and Letcher County.

What is amazing is that I saw all these license plates at the Ratliff hole river access and only 2 or 3 of the cars where boaters. Everyone else was swimming and Tubing the river. My count of the people at 1:00 was 78 in or by the river. The river is getting just as much use during the low water in the summer as it does during the October Whitewater releases.

Since I am a frequent guest of many of our local eating establishments, I also see the impact these visitors have on our local economy. All the restaurants in Elkhorn City have been busy. Another positive this summer for Elkhorn City’s local economy has been the water park at the Breaks Interstate Park. I have observed numerous families eating at the Rusty Fork Cafe in the late afternoon after spending the day at the water park in the Breaks.

This is really a lesson in economics. I remember when the water park at the Breaks was being planned and a lot of people in Elkhorn City thought that it would not help Elkhorn City. Yet, it has helped. One way it has helped is to provide about 14 local jobs. I know of 8 young people who have jobs at the water park this summer. You also know it helps when you see 4 different families eating at the Rusty fork Cafe who have just came from the water park and are on their way home to Pikeville and Prestonsburg.

I also should mention our visitors who come through Elkhorn City along the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. My Count so far this year is 476 and that is just the ones who I saw, so we know the number is higher.

Where do we go from here?  We must complete our Trail Town Certification (link to Kentucky Trail Town Document)  and  make Elkhorn City’s tourism infrastructure more user-friendly.  I talk more about ways to do this in future posts.  For now get out and enjoy the river!


Elkhorn City Needs a Local Tourism and Convention Commission

Two Years ago today I wrote a post entitled 10 things Elkhorn City Must do to Thrive!  Now we are going to take a look at  each one of the 10 things individually and point out the specific steps that can be taken to accomplish each point.   (The good news is we have already accomplished items 3a 3b and 3c and the mayor is doing a great job with item 4.)

Number 1 on the list was “Establish a Local Tourism and Convention

Paddling the Meatgrinder

Paddling the Meatgrinder

Commission.”  The Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association has written an excellent document entitled “Tourism 101 Manual “ on how to establish a local tourism commission.  The first question is…

What is a Tourist Commission?   Let’s take a look at what the manual has to say.

“A tourist commission is a nonprofit organization formed to promote tourism in a community and is typically funded by a transient room tax also known as a “bed tax.” The funds collected for a tourist commission can be used only for the promotion of tourism. The tourist commission is governed by a board, which gets the community involved as well as the local government, because representatives from both must participate. A paid staff at the tourist commission promotes and develops tourism in the community. This staff typically produces brochures, attends travel shows, and promotes the community outside the region by following an organized marketing and advertising plan. As a result of this type of promotion, tourism properties in the area can expand, benefiting the local economy.”

The second question we should ask is, Why do we need one?  We need one for alot of reasons.  First and foremost, is having a local  body as a Tourism Commission enables a community to chart its  own course  in marketing itself and it tourism development.  Elkhorn City would not be dependent on Pikeville and Pike County’s Tourism Commission.  All the other reasons will be apparent as I go through the process of how Elkhorn City can establish a local tourism commission.

The Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS), specifically, KRS 91A.350(2) enables Elkhorn City can establish its’ own local tourist and convention commission for the purpose of promoting and developing convention and tourist activities and facilities.

Who is on the Tourist Commission?

In Kentucky KRS 91A.360  governs membership  of Tourist and Convention Commissions.

In Elkhorn City, a Tourist and Convention Commission members would be appointed by the mayor with at least 2 citizens form the local city hotel and motel association.  Elkhorn City does not have a hotel and motel association.  In this instance KRS 91A.360 states,  “If no formal local city or county hotel and motel association is in existence upon the establishment of a commission or upon the expiration of the term of a commissioner appointed pursuant to this subsection, then up to three (3) commissioners shall be appointed by the appropriate chief executive officer or officers from persons residing within the jurisdiction of the commission and representing local hotels or motels”

1 commissioner form the local restaurant association

“If no formal local restaurant association or associations exist upon the establishment of a commission or upon the expiration of the term of a commissioner appointed pursuant to this subsection, then one (1) commissioner shall be appointed by the appropriate chief executive officer or officers from persons residing within the jurisdiction of the commission and representing a local restaurant”

1 form the local  chamber of commerce

If no local chamber of commerce is in existence upon the establishment of a commission or upon the expiration of the term of a commissioner appointed pursuant to this subsection, then one (1) commissioner shall be appointed by the appropriate chief executive officer or officers from persons residing within the jurisdiction of the commission and representing local businesses”

(D) 2 commissioners by the mayor

KRS 91A.390 provides that the City can enact a Room Tax 3% and that  “(2) All moneys collected pursuant to this section and KRS 91A.400 shall be maintained in an account separate and unique from all other funds and revenues collected, and shall be considered tax revenue for the purposes of KRS 68.100 and KRS 92.330”

Elkhorn City can also enact a Restaurant tax through  KRS 91A.400  Restaurant tax in cities of the fourth and fifth class.

In addition to 3% room tax a 3% sales tax on … All moneys collected must be turned over to the Tourist and convention commission in the city as provided by KRS 91A.350 to 91A.390.

It would not hurt any of our current business by the imposing of the additional taxes.  Believe me we all pay them when we go to Pikeville to eat out or most any other town in Kentucky.  It does not make sense for the businesses to complain about the extra taxes since all the money goes back into market and promoting Elkhorn City which then brings in more business.

Here are some helpful links for planning and help in this area:

Tourism 101 Manuel

Elkhorn City Economic Development and Tourism Planning Resources

Elkhorn City’s YourTown Workshop Results

This post is a section of The Elkhorn City Area Heritage Council’s Final Report for our December 2011 YourTown followup workshop authored by Steve Ruth and other Heritage C ouncil members.  

“The two day workshop kicked off Thursday, December 1, with introductions from ECAHC President Tim Belcher. Stephanie Richards and Steve Ruth followed with details about the ACT and Russell Fork whitewater, including history, achievements and future goals. These presentations were well received and enthusiastically endorsed by the presenters for Barter Theater (Duehring) and Canoe Kentucky (Depenbrock).

Both visiting entities identified and requested local partnership opportunities which was worth the effort in itself. Barter’s resident playwrite will collaborate with ACT and Canoe Kentucky offered material support (canoes/kayaks, accessories) to ECAHC to promote on-stream activities.

John Michael Johnson wrapped up the presentations with an overview of the new US460 project which will be completed and bring 4 lane access to Elkhorn City within 4-5 years. This presents new opportunities to Elkhorn City to establish business districts, expand city limits, and offer more tour-bus based offerings.

After a lunch break, participants broke into two groups for the walking tour/inventory exercise while workshop coordinators moved the show to the Elkhorn City library’s meeting room. Participants finished the day by reporting on the walking tour, identifying primary assets and needs in the downtown area.

Day two was kicked off with presentations from Russ Clark, NPS RTCA, on the economic benefits of blueways and Seth Wheat, Kentucky Adventure Tourism, on the state’s new Trail Town initiative.

The remaining day two group split into sub groups, one arts focused, one adventure tourism focused, to further discuss assets/needs and to begin the process of identifying the 10 actions the city should take to move forward.

Each partipant was then asked to vote on specific suggestions with a series of weighted votes (top 3 priorities) to winnow down the long list of actions. Upon identifying the top 10, by vote, actions, we discussed and finalized the list by consensus.

The workshop produced a number of immediate accomplishments. Partnerships were formed between Barter Theater and ACT and between Kentucky Canoe and ECAHC. These actions were a direct result of interactions in the workshop. Also, a local entrepreneur, at this time, is negotiating a franchise agreement with Canoe Kentucky to open a small canoe livery in Elkhorn City.

A needs inventory was identified with the following wish list:
• Walking bridge rehab
• In-town lodging
• Improved signage (both in town and leading to town)
• Outdoor outfitter store
• Public restroom

A list of action items were identified:
1. A full time tourism/development driver who acts as a Tourism Director/Grant Writer/Business Recruiter
2. Development/Completion of Whitewater Park
3. Pedestrian bridge/walkway repair/rebuild
4. Community Center/Tourism Office/Public Restroom facility (Depot/Railroad museum)
5. Kentucky Trail Town Designation (through office of Adventure Tourism)
6. Better signage leading to town and in town attractions
7. Lodging (B&B, Motel, campgrounds, cabins)
8. Outdoor outfitter/in town canoe/kayak/innertube livery
9. Arts/cultural center/galleries/shops

Since the workshop, there have been several developments that can lead to further progress in Elkhorn City’s master tourism goals.
• Kentucky Trail Town designation in progress
• Awarding of Coal Severance funds in state budget for design and permitting of water park
• Commitment of local businessman to build lodging facility downtown
• Identification and right of way negotiation for Great Eastern Trail from Elkhorn City through Pike County to Matewan, WV.
• New restaurant and new laundromat in downtown area.
• A new partnership with Eastern Kentucky University, University of Kentucky, and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s “After Coal Economic Initiative”.

The design/final document from the follow-up workshop is still under development and should be completed and distributed by July, 2012. This document will include results of the workshop combined with previous design/development documents for Elkhorn City Arts and Tourism goals. This document will be shared among workshop participants and interested parties. It will be the blueprint for the afore-mentioned partnership with EKU, UK, and KFTC.”

Here is a link to the complete document with Pictures!!!!!

Coming Home to the Mountains: Elkhorn City, A View through Fresh Eyes

This is a guest post by Cheryl Ramey-Barker.  Cheryl left Elkhorn City, Kentucky when she was 16 and recently came back to visit for a few days.  I asked Cheryl to write down her thoughts on Elkhorn now vs what she remember and give us some ideas on what we could do to improve Elkhorn City and its growing tourist industry.  Her thoughts are very relevant to our current Trial Town Project and what little things we can do to be more tourist “Ready”  Here is what she came up with!

I was raised in small town in Eastern Kentucky. As a child I couldn’t wait to leave it. I was convinced that there was something bigger and better out there, just waiting for me. I left Elkhorn City in 1984, I was 16. I moved to Lexington, graduated high school and upon realizing that there was no money for college, I joined the Navy.
I traveled the world and saw the sights that most people still long to see. I lived in several places. I once lived in 5 different states within a six-year period. But that is the “Military Life.” In all of my travels and in all of the places I lived, there was always something missing. I realized that I missed the small town, the mountains that surrounded it and the people who made it “home.”
I recently traveled back to Elkhorn City. I was so happy to be home. It felt like it always had. A warm, friendly place with a slower pace that what I have become accustomed to. The scenery has changed somewhat. Businesses and homes that I expected to see were no longer there. There were a few new businesses but not nearly enough to replace the revenue and jobs that have been lost. This was once a quite busy little town. There were several restaurants and full service gas stations and even a motel. The gas stations are long gone, replaced by a convenient store with gas pumps. The motel is closed up with vines taking over the exterior of the building. And the restaurant that I remember has been replaced with The Rusty Fork Cafe. It’s the social gathering place for the town. It’s where the men come for their morning coffee and conversation to discuss current events and local politics. I remember as a little girl referring to this as the “coffee club.” The food was even better than I remember and it was a warm feeling to see that the coffee club still holds its regular meetings.
Several new businesses have popped up in town. I saw a new pizza place. Thank Heavens-who could live without pizza! There is also a new theater with plays and musicals. I didn’t have the opportunity to attend the current play, “Greater Tuna,” but the reviews I have read state anything on stage there is a great show. There is also a new gift store in town, The Pine Mountain Outlet. It’s definitely more of a boutique than a gift store. At least it’s not what I expected, it was a great shop, but I was hoping to see some Appalachian Crafts for sale in there. I know the local women are extremely talented with their sewing and quilting projects and their canning of jams and jellies.
I guess what disappointed me the most was that there wasn’t a single item to be found that referenced Elkhorn City in any way. I know bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets and t-shirts may sound cheesy to some, but I want people to ask me about my home town. I want them see my t-shirt and say “Elkhorn City, where on Earth is that?” I want to tell them that it’s where the mountains meet the sky and the most beautiful place on Earth. It’s where the people are warm and treat strangers like family. I want to tell them about the River Walk, the Blue Line Trail, the ACT Theater, and the delicious food at The Rusty Fork. But there was nothing that I could find to elicit such a question. So for now, I will take my opportunities as they come and break out the pictures on my cell phone or my laptop whenever I can squeeze it into the conversation. But a bumper sticker or a t-shirt sure would have made it a lot easier!
I have often hoped for Elkhorn City to have new businesses to support the local economy. I honestly believe that tourism is the way to grow and sustain the town, especially with the renewed interest in the Hatfield and McCoy Feud. I am pleased to hear that the white water rafting expeditions have taken off so well. I would like to see a sporting goods store of some sort there, selling kayaks and paddles, camping supplies and the like and possibly renting equipment for those who weren’t prepared or forgot their gear. Even a new motel so folks don’t have to stay in Breaks (unless they want to). I think about a soda fountain designed like they were in the old days complete with a soda jerk serving up ice cream floats and sundaes. There are several open store fronts that would make a nice place for an Appalachian Crafts store. Maybe the local ladies could offer their crafts on consignment. A store similar to the old “What’s it Shop” would be a great souvenir shop. It could offer t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc bearing the Elkhorn City logo or city seal. Hopefully someone will open a souvenir store and be ready for business before the town celebrates in centennial in the fall.
I can imagine that having the capital to open a new business is one major problem. I work in property preservation and know that vacant properties deteriorate more quickly than occupied properties. I would hope that some of the property owners would be willing to donate business space rent free for one year; they could require the tenant to be responsible for utilities and minor repairs. It would be a win-win situation. It stands to reason that the property owners are paying up keep and taxes on the vacant buildings so why not give someone the opportunity to use that space to contribute to the economy while maintaining and preserving it? Providing a rent free space for a year would allow the business owner the opportunity to get the business off the ground and possibly create additional employment in the area while allowing the property owner some credit on their taxes. There are also places where the city purchases business space and gives a grant of free rent for a year. After the first year, the tenant signs a new lease agreeing to the amount of rent and paying it directly to the city….just some thoughts.

Cheryl Ramey-Barker

Come on EC Let’s hit the Trail! Elkhorn City: Kentucky Trail Town

On Thursday, June 14th, the Elkhorn City Council fielded a presentation from Elaine Wilson the Executive Director of the Kentucky  Office of  Adventure Tourism.   Ms. Wilson came speak to our town about Elkhorn City becoming a Kentucky Certified Trail town.    She spoke about the trail town concept and the many things the community can do to improve the experience of the trail user.   The topics ranged from improving signage to purchasing bike racks and from marketing to economic development.

Someone with resources, expertise in their field, and the potential to literally put our town on the map took time out of their schedule to come and tell us how blessed we are to have  the quality and caliber of trails we have in this town.

When we think about all the things our town is blessed with, from the towering mountains, to our proximity to the Breaks, to the river running through the center of downtown, it’s not often we think about the trails connecting our town to the world. Stretching back to the days the railroad brought prosperity to our town, we prospered because we are in a place that people enjoy coming to, or traveling through.

There are three primary trails that are connected to our town: the Pine Mountain Trail, the Trans-America 76 Bike Trail, and the Russell Fork River. Whether, hiking, biking, or kayaking our town connects you to three remarkable trail systems that offer exactly what you’re looking for in your area of recreation.   The Great Eastern Trail is also coming through town in the near future.

The Pine Mountain Trail currently offers 48 miles of virgin trail. Carved one mile at a time by volunteer labor, this expansive trail is planned to stretch from Elkhorn City to Jellico, Tennessee over 111 miles and inclusion in the Great Eastern Trail by its completion. Well blazed, and following the ridge of the expansive Pine Mountain, every couple of miles it feels like a brand new trail. The scenery always shifting from the top of the peaks rolling through dense woodland, past geologic oddities and historic sites every scene reinvigorates you with the sense of purpose that only distance hiking can offer. It’s seclusion at its finest, braving the wilderness with no civilization within 5 miles; every footstep becomes a reminder that only your determination and will power can see you through to the end.

The Transamerica 76 Bike Trail spans from coast to coast, and sees travelers of all kinds. From professional bikers to amateurs with a good cause, bikers flock from all over the world and pass through our town in the process. Just the count from the Rusty Fork regulars tallied 43 states and 17 countries in one year.

Finally, the Russell Fork River for all intents and purposes is a mecca for white water enthusiasts. One of the most technically challenging rivers in the world, with rapids rating as high as the scales go the Russell Fork is another worldwide draw that runs right through the heart of our business sector. Despite the difficulty of paddling through the Gorge, the river breaks down into three and a half sections that range from beginner status on the Lower Russell Fork from Ratliff Hole to Elkhorn, to intermediate on the Upper put-in at Flannigan dam, to world class from Garden Hole down.

Our town has gifts and natural amenities that allow us a sturdy foundation. Just the same as we built our homes upon them, we can also build industry. We can build our community, and we can share in the prosperity from them. Most of all, we can build our own future, and create the world we want to live in.

Here is a link to the slide presentation given by Ms Wilson

Here is a link to The Sheltowee Trace Association’s Trail Town information page

Check out the above links and you will see why Elkhorn City needs to become a Kentucky Trail Town.

Next post will be on the Trial Town process and how we get it done.