Tag Archives: Business and Economy

Our Deepest Fear? Elkhorn City Can be Powerful … beyond measure! A mini Manifesto on Economic Development in Elkhorn City, Kentucky


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.


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


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

Benefits of Adventure Tourism

The hiker parade at Trail Days 2006 in Damascu...
Image via Wikipedia

This post is directly out of the Governor  Beshear’s four-year development plan for Appalachia the report is Report entitled, Appalachia Tomorrow 2009 -2013 and can be found here.

“There are numerous studies and articles on the economic benefits of adventure tourism.  Every study shows that trail development attracts and restores businesses, generates new jobs, and raises public revenue.  But trail development and adventure tourism also lead to increases in property value, provides health benefits, and many other immeasurable advantages.  This holds true whether the trails are hiking, biking, ATV riding, or horseback riding trails.  Trails increase a community’s sense of pride as residents begin to appreciate the area that they had taken for granted for so long.

Nationally, trail-related expenditures, depending upon the mileage covered, range from less than $1 per day to more than $75 per day.  Further, a trail can generally produce about $1 Million in annual revenue for a community, so long as the town accepts and supports the trail system.  A wonderful example of how a small town has boomed with the development of a trail is Lanesboro, Minnesota, population 800.  The difference between pre-trail and post-trail Lanesboro was the addition of “12 B&B’s (with year-long waiting lists), 8 restaurants, an art gallery, a museum, and a thriving community theater…  The visitors are people who are having a good time, want it to continue, and are willing to spend the money to spend quality time on the trail.  This kind of ‘impulse’ purchase bodes well for retailers along our trails.”  In this Minnesota town, the economic impact of the trail is more than $5 Million per year.[1]

Arizona State Parks conducted a yearlong economic study in 2002 on the economic benefits of off-highway vehicle recreation.  The study showed the total economic impact (direct and indirect) from recreational off-road vehicle use was $4.25 Billion to the state as a whole.  This recreational industry alone generated over $3 Billion in retail sales and added $187 Million to annual state tax revenue.  Further, off-road vehicle recreation supported 36,591 Arizona jobs and generated household income of $1.1 Billion.  21% of Arizona’s population participated in the recreational activity, totaling 1.1 Million people.[2]

“[W]ell-managed trails running through communities can foster substantial, sustainable economic activity through business development and tourism.  Trails encourage the establishment of ‘clean’ industries and business, such as cafes, bike shops, and bed and breakfasts in communities along the trail.”  The recreational and leisure industry is a $311 Billion industry and has increased from 6.5% of total consumer spending to 10.5% in 15 years.[3] In a study conducted on the Greenbriar River Trail, it was determined that the average trail user was highly educated with a household income of more than $60,000 per year and that 60% of trail users were out-of-state visitors.  Of those out-of-state visitors, 90% of respondents said that they were highly likely to return to the area.  Visitors primarily spent money on food, travel, and lodging when visiting the Greenbriar River Trail.  58% of visitors spent between $100 and $500 during their visit.  Those who spent less than $100 all lived within the corridor and the 39% of visitors that spent more than $500 virtually all lived outside of West Virginia.  Of the visitors surveyed, 47% said that they were first-time visitors and the same percentage of visitors said that they were influenced to visit by word of mouth.  Also, 48% of the respondents said that they were planning on visiting another recreational area in the West Virginia corridor on that trip.[4] The creation of trails provides new opportunities for small towns, with increased demand for lodging and restaurants.  Trails, whether advertised or not, bring out of town visitors.  Trail visitors have money and are willing spend it on recreational activities.

Trail development increases property value and makes the community more appealing.  According to the US National Parks Service, the value of property that is located adjacent to trails and greenway increases from 5% to 32%.[5] In a survey conducted by the University of Nebraska, 65% of respondents thought that their home would be easier to market and sell because it was near a trail and 42% said that their home was easier to sell because of its location near a trail.  When polling homeowners who purchased their home after the trail was constructed, 63.8% said that the trail positively influenced their purchase decision.[6] When asked to rate the importance of community amenities that would seriously influence your decision to move to an area, keeping in mind that the amenities may increase your costs, 44% of respondents said that highway access would influence their decision.  36% said that walking/jogging/biking trails would sway them, followed by 28% ranking sidewalks on both sides of the street.  26% of respondents wanted parks, 21% wanted playgrounds, 19% wanted shops within walking distance, and only 8% said that amenities such as golf courses, tennis courts, club houses, and baseball/softball fields would influence their decision on moving to the area.[7] Studies show that 70% of landowners believe that an adjacent trail is a “good neighbor” and there are positive effects including being more in tune with nature (64%), recreational opportunities (53%), and health benefits (24%).[8]

The development of trails and spread of adventure tourism will have beneficial effects on the health of the population.  Many adventure tourism activities are physically challenging, such as hiking, biking, rock-climbing, canoeing, and kayaking.  Studies have shown that participating in activities such as these several times a week can improve a person’s health and lower health care costs.  The US National Park Service conducted a study on this topic and compared people who lead sedentary lives with those who exercised regularly.  “The exercisers filed 14% fewer healthcare claims, spent 30 fewer days in the hospital, and had 41% fewer claims greater than $5,000.”  For instance, in the United States, each year 1.5 million fractures are associated with osteoporosis.  Participation in activities such as hiking results in increased bone mass which slows the osteoporosis deteriorating process, leading to fewer fractures and lower medical costs.  “The anticipated national benefits of increased participation in physical fitness include reductions in both the direct and indirect costs of illness and disease, improvement in lifestyle and a reduction in genriatric costs.”[9]

[1] Sjoquist, Gary, “The Economic and Social Benefits of Trails,” February 2003 www.americantrails.org/resources/economics/MNecon.html

[2] “Economic Benefits of Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation in Arizona:  Statewide Motorized and Non-motorized Trails Plan” November 2004, Arizona State Parks.

[3] “The Economic Benefit of Trails,”  American Hiking Society, Silver Spring, MD.  www.americanhiking.org

[4] “Maximizing Economic Benefits from a Rails-to-Trails Project in Southern West Virginia:  A Case Study of the Greenbriar River Trail.”  October 2000.

[5] Sjoquist, Gary, “The Economic and Social Benefits of Trails,” February 2003 www.americantrails.org/resources/economics/MNecon.html

[6] “Omaha Recreational Trails – The Effects on Property Values and Public Safety,”  report conducted by the University of Nebraska, June 2000.

[7] “Economic Impact of Trails,”  2002 Consumer Survey by the National Association of Realtors and National Association of Homebuilders.

[8] Sjoquist, Gary, “The Economic and Social Benefits of Trails,” February 2003 www.americantrails.org/resources/economics/MNecon.html

59           “The Economic Benefit of Trails,”  American Hiking Society, Silver Spring, MD.

60           “Kentucky Energy Consumption Information,”  http://www.eredux.com/states/state_detail.php?id=1135&state=KENTUCKY

61           “Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of  Metropolitan America May 29, 2008, The Brookings Institution.

[12] “Kentucky Adventure Terrain:  Eastern Kentucky Comprehensive Adventure Tourism Plan,” Pros Consulting, LLC.

[13] Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet Accomplishments, http://commerce.ky.gov/facts/, December 14, 2008.

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The Answer to the Great Swimming Pool Debate … election!

The Elkhorn City public swimming pool has been a huge issue the past two years.  It could be argue that the pool was even the deciding issue in the recent mayoral election.

My heart told me to spend whatever was necessary to get the pool back up and running.  I spent my childhood in the E.C. Pool.  I would ride my bicycle form Beaver Creek, two miles away, to go swimming every day in the summer.  My first job was at the E.C. Pool and I worked for there for three summers.  Some of my fondest memories are tied to the Elkhorn City pool.

Until, recently it was almost everyone’s position that the money to repair the pool should be spent.  However, recently, some folks have mentioned that maybe we should not spend $500,000.00 to reopen it.  The reasons not to

Tubing on the Russell Fork in Downtown Elkhorn City, Kentucky

spend the money on the pool are valid.  First, the Breaks Interstate Park has an excellent pool within 7 miles of Elkhorn City.  Second, the pool makes no money whatsoever for the City, it is a loss leader, at best.  Third, Elkhorn City has the cleanest river in Kentuckyrunning through town and kids could always use the old swimming holes like Peto’s hole, Stillworm, Long hole, etc.   Also, the locally supported Russell Fork Whitewater Recreation Plan, could provide for swimming in the river. Forth, the City would need to raise taxes to come up with the money.  Last but certainly not least is the fact the fact that there is no money!  The County does not have the money and the state does not have the money.

The answer to this debate is simple.  Let the people decide. If the residents of Elkhorn City want to spend $500,000.00 on the swimming pool, put it on the ballot.  We should have a bond issue on the next election ballot.  The question should be “Are you in favor of a 10% increase in City property taxes to pay for the rebuilding of the Elkhorn City Public swimming pool?”  Something tells me it would not pass.  What do you think?

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