Tag Archives: Russell Fork River

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


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

Elkhorn City Growth? … Just Add Water!

This is a guest post by my good friend Brent Austin.  Brent is an attorney from Lexington, Kentucky.  Brent has been coming to Elkhorn City and the Russell Fork for years and has a unique perspective on how Elkhorn City can reach its true potential.


I have been recreating in the Breaks Interstate Park and enjoying the Russell Fork river, since the fall of 1989. Some of you may remember those days, especially in the early 90s when each fall, the towns of Elkhorn City, KY and Haysi, VA, would be jammed packed with “Rafters”, the term given for each and every person that “rode” the river, whether in a raft, kayak or canoe. We would sit in amazement while raft load after raft load came careening down El Horrendo and other rapids in the Gorge. Back then, the Gateway Motel was jam packed and you could not count on a room. The Breaks Park was filled with campers who had come to paddle the river from all over the world. The Rusty Fork Restaurant was not there yet, so many of us jammed in long lines at the Breaks Buffet waiting to eat. The room was usually filled with whitewater folks and it was clear that this area had promise. At that time, areas like Bryson City NC, home area of the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) and Fayetteville, WV, situated close to the New and Gauley Rivers, were just starting to grow from the tourism that the rivers in the area brought. And, so it seemed that the potential of Elkhorn City, KY could, too, become such an end target for the discerning whitewater and outdoor adventurer. Heck, even me and James Stapleton thought, for a moment, back in 1995 that the town was perfectly situated for our new outdoor recreation store we considered opening: Appalachian Outdoor Center. We even had Tee shirts and hats embroidered while I was on a kayaking trip in Nepal that year. All we needed was for the Army Corp of Engineers to do what they did at the Gauley River and boom! Instant presto, we would have water and a destination for paddlers all over the world, just like in Bryson City and in Fayetteville. Of course that was when we were a bit younger, less jaded, had that fire in our belly, and thought we could reason with the Army Corp to get managed releases.

Years later, with many gray hairs on my head and in my 50s, I now find myself heading to the Russell Fork from Lexington every chance I get, water level dependent. But, there are now newer, younger paddlers and we have had many studies performed, the river environment the subject of a doctoral thesis and even plans for a whitewater park, if we could get the ACOE to commit to provide us with 200 – 250 cfs, a few times a week for a few hours, during the summer. But, none of that has led to any change in the water management since the early 90s and today, with water management, other than in the first four weekends in October, erratic, undependable and impossible to predict for those not glued to the various gauges, lake levels and flow management criteria, folks look and they go elsewhere. Even then, other than those of us close enough to make a day trip, the RF remains off the radar for the bulk of the world’s whitewater paddlers, again, unless we are talking the first four weekends in October.

Recently, I have been frustrated because as I age, have a family and work responsibilities that keep me close to home, I really look forward to opportunities to go to the Breaks, paddle the river and do some of the activities in the area that my family would enjoy as well. This past Memorial Day is a perfect example. I wanted to go to the river and saw that the lake was a bit over summer pool and that it was not high enough to be a problem. If the ACOE had chosen to do so, they could have saved the 300 cfs release they started on a Tuesday and ended on a Thursday, for the weekend, thus guaranteeing that there would be flow for recreation over the weekend. A simple “call in” recording announcing the release for the weekend, would have spread like wildfire on Boater Talk and other paddling forums, and no doubt, the area would have seen a large influx of folks from all over. But, there was no water left by the weekend and that was not an opportunity for me and my family to come enjoy the river. As a result, we went to the Smoky Mountains where I paddled the Cheoah River and we spent our money eating out in Gatlinburg instead of in the Pike County area. It seems kinda simple for folks like me: Do you want to see Elkhorn City grow? If so, then “Just Add Water”. You will be stunned what will happen.

See you on the river,

Brent Austin

A Great Day to Get Wet!

Sunday, July 10th,  2011, was a beautiful day in Elkhorn City and a good day for our little tourism industry.  Ratliff’s Hole was full of people using the Russell Fork River.  I saw 42 different paddlers in the river and 50 plus swimmers.   The most interesting sight was the two folks using an air mattress and running down the river from the put in down to the play hole.  They were having a blast, as was everyone using the river that today.

Last week, I saw two boaters from Alaska eating at the Rusty Fork Cafe.  This morning I saw 13 boaters eating at the Rusty Fork.  Today the license plates in the parking lot where from Fayette County, Jefferson County, Letcher County, Boyd  County, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

     What amazes me about this is I saw about  8 locals at Ratliff’s Hole and only two of them using the river.  Everyone else was  out of county or out-of-state.  Just like a prophet is not known in his or her hometown, the cleanest and most beautiful river in the eastern United States isn’t either.  It makes me sad that we have such  a great asset and it seems that most of the local people have no appreciation for  it.  Well, I guess they are all in South Carolina keeping Myrtle Beach in business.  I heard that at the end of the month of July, South Carolina has  to bring in the heavy equipment just to get the coal dust off the beach!
     Another  area of adventure tourism Elkhorn City is seeing some benefits from is the Transamerica  76 cross-country bike Trail.   Today, I also saw 5 bicyclists coming through town on the Transamerica Trail.  Earlier in the week a group of 10 came through and a couple  of them had some mechanical breakdowns.  This has happened a lot this year.  It really points out the need for a small bicycle shop in town.  We used to have one back in the early 1990’s and it did pretty well.  In fact, I bought my bicycle from “Bike Mike” at the Mountain Bike Shop.  It was next to the post office on one side of the old Western Auto  building.
Today reinforced to me they need for the Elkhorn City to develop the Russell Fork River in its downtown.  The Elkhorn City Area Heritage Council has a detailed plan regarding a whitewater in river play park for the downtown area.  I can imagine 100 times  the activity I saw today at Ratliff’s Hole right in the middle  of  downtown Elkhorn City when it is completed.  You can find the plan here and it is well worth the read.  Take a look and let me know what you think.