Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ …
One of the greatest challenges that we face as a community in Elkhorn City is the fear that we as a community are powerful beyond measure. The above quote from Marian Williamson not only applies to individuals but it also applies to collective groups. I’ve struggled with trying to build Elkhorn City for over 15 years through the Elkhorn City Are Heritage Council which is a non-profit whose mission is to protect and to preserve the heritage of Elkhorn City and to promote eco and adventure tourism in Elkhorn City.
It is almost a cliché at this point that Elkhorn City has so much potential. The favorite quote I always hear is “Elkhorn City can be another Gatlinburg.” It is true we could be another Gatlinburg … we could be a lot of things ,we could be one of the greatest tourism towns in the Commonwealth of Kentucky bar none. Elkhorn City has all the natural assets that it takes to attract visitors to our community to enjoy the mountains, the river, the trails, and the unique heritage that we have as the people. But we as a community has always been afraid that if we do build it they will come and what if they do what will we become.
The quote about Gatlinburg is always amusing to me because I’ve never wanted to be another Gatlinburg I wanted to be Elkhorn City Kentucky. Gatlinburg is crowded and congested and grew at a pace that should have been a little more thought out and a little more slow. The one thing we can learn from the growth of Gatlinburg as a tourism town is that Gatlinburg grew because it was a trail town it is located at the beginning of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park it was a town that catered to people who wanted to go into the smokies to hike, fish, bike, and enjoy nature. That is what started Gatlinburg’s upward climb to a booming economic community.
Elkhorn City also has great natural assets that it sets right in the middle of, no we don’t have a National Park but we’ve got the Breaks Interstate park which is a totally unique and gorgeous park the grand canyon of the south, the Russell Fork river, the pine mountain trail, the new great eastern trail which is going to be coming through Elkhorn city, the trans America bike trail which already runs through Elkhorn city. We see growth and visitors right now on a small level but, there are things we need to do as a community to enhance their experience and to attract more people and we can do it nice good clean intelligent ways that will bring prosperity to our community and the economic growth that we need.
Elkhorn City needs to be an original. In the world of music there’s an old saying that cover bands don’t change the world only original bands do. Perhaps are greatest challenge when you say we could be another Gatlinburg we don’t want to be another Gatlinburg we don’t need to be another Gatlinburg we need to be Elkhorn City. But that doesn’t mean that we do not look for the positives and the negatives regarding the Gatlinburg story and how they became a trail town. It also goes back to the point I made earlier, that we are powerful beyond measure and that’s probably our greatest fear as a community is that we could be “another Gatlinburg” I know that’s one thing that scares me to death because I don’t think we should be another Gatlinburg but we should take some of the positive things that were done in Gatlinburg and learn from them and don’t go the negative ones.
For instance, the new US 460 is coming along we need to do our downtown development in a nice quaint way that is inviting for a person to come downtown and spend a few hours that is not hectic, that is not loud, that your time in Elkhorn City flows just like the river with quaint shops and quaint things to do.
Elkhorn City’s greatest asset is that all the trails (Pine Mountain, Great Eastern and Trans-America) lead into the middle of the town. Can we grow in other aspects in what I call the noisy way Gatlinburg did? Sure we can, we have annexed all the property along US 460 so we can grow we can take that kind of growth and put it there and become a unique quaint downtown that attracts the cultural heritage tourist and the adventure tourist and the trail user.
The trail user right now is our most important demographic for bringing new money into the city. I myself has personally observed so far in 2012 483 bicyclist along the trans American trail and I observe them when I’m eating at one of our local restaurants, that means there eating there too, and they are usually spending about 10 dollars a head, according to the information that I have from the owner, so its easy to do the math on what kind of impact that trail has on that restaurant. And you also have to understand that I didn’t see all the users on the trail some came through, I missed some, and some did business other places. Right now the only businesses that are capitalizing on our trail users are our restaurants but there’s other ways that other retail businesses can capitalize on the trail users. Take a look at Sheryl Ramey’s recent blog post on my blog about how she came back to town as a tourist and wanted to spend some money on items from her home town that she could take back and show her friends, whether it be trinkets or any number of things. Not one of our retail businesses had any Elkhorn City souvenirs!
One of the most important things we can do as a community is develop the Elkhorn City Area Heritage Council’s, Russell Fork white water play park initiative in downtown,(link) which is a project which will go in and improve the river from a river users prospective from a kayaker and a paddler prospective and from a tubers prospective. There’s six specific places downtown where the river can be tweaked in a safe way that would promote more boaters to boat the section of river that is downtown and make it more exciting and thrilling for them.
We know from a host of other communities who have done similar projects that the economic impact of white water parks in the downtowns can be anywhere from 1 million dollars a year up to 10 million dollars a year. We know that for every boater that are in these white water parks there’s usually 10 to 20 people who are observing them so that would create a wonderful opportunity for more people to be spending time downtown which opens up all kinds of potential for new business in the downtown area whether it be coffee shops retail businesses any number of things. We can also look at development of the river from the prospective of a business development the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) established an outdoor recreation company located at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Nantahala River in rural Swain County, North Carolina, that has proven to be a shining success story. Originally a roadside inn, the company has evolved into one of the largest recreation companies in the nation and one of western Carolina’s largest employers. In 2010, NOC contributed $85,386,489 to the local economy while providing a total of 1,061 jobs. Another successful eco-tourism example is nearby Damascus, Virginia where 20,000 people hike into town for the annual “Trail Days” celebration and if we do things to improve our river and improve our trail systems and improve the users we can have a business or businesses that have just as much economic impact on our community and we’ll raise the quality of lives for all the residents it would raise property values enormously and help us through hard economic times.