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Highly appealing



Published: Sat, June 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The Appalachian Regional Commission has helped states throughout the mountainous region build roads and other infrastructure, and provide high-speed access to the Internet.

Now the agency is turning its attention to another economic development tool -- tourism.

The commission has partnered with the National Geographic Society to develop a "geotourism" map promoting an eclectic mix of more than 350 attractions reflecting the diversity of the 13-state region.

Eclectic mix

Attractions include both the mainstream and the obscure, from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., to what's billed as the oldest continuous flea market in Ripley, Miss.

Also featured are Civil War sites, museums, parks, hiking trails, festivals, historic districts, spas and resorts, celebrity birthplaces, prehistoric Indian mounds and notable farms.

"This map delivers a taste of Appalachia's distinctive culture and heritage to a wide audience, exposing this 'undiscovered national treasure' to many first-time visitors," the ARC said in a news release.

Anne Pope, co-chairwoman of the ARC, said the goal is to spur economic growth by drawing tourist dollars to the area. "ARC recognizes the economic potential of tourism for the region," she said. "This type of tourism encourages the preservation of a site's unique sense of place and strengthens its prospects for long term sustainability."

The Appalachian region covers all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia.

In a 2003 report, the ARC's Tourism Council said tourism's overall economic impact on Appalachia was $29.1 billion and the industry employed a total 601,431 workers.

Attracting attention

"This is just one of the greatest things to come up and the fact that this is a federal-private partnership is unique in itself," said Dana Lee Tatum, president and CEO of the North Alabama Tourism Association. "We think it will make a marked difference in the number of people who travel to this region."

The ARC made a grant of $85,000 to the National Geographic Society for development of the map. It was distributed as an insert in the April issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, which has about 900,000 subscribers, and can also be purchased from National Geographic.

Tourism offices throughout Appalachia will distribute another 300,000 copies. The ARC also plans to make the map available to schools, libraries and civic groups.

An Internet version of the map, which has information on about 130 attractions, is available at www.nationalgeographic.com/appalachia. It contains links to both the individual attractions and local tourism offices. Additional attractions will be added every three months.

Pope said the Web site got 50,000 hits during its first month.

"Being on National Geographic's Web site is very exciting to me. I'm delighted. ... In my experience working with visitors, people love a map," said Jeanne Mozier, vice president of Travel Berkeley Springs in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.

Positive exposure

Mozier said the map project gives "high-end travelers" positive exposure to Appalachia.

Renda Morris, executive director of the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine in southern West Virginia, said her attraction's inclusion provides an opportunity to "reach out there and give our story of our coal heritage."

"It means a lot for the exhibition coal mine, plus I think it's good exposure for the city of Beckley," Morris said.

Mary Ellen Walsh, a spokeswoman for New York's State Development office, said even a big state that's already an established travel destination "welcomes any opportunity to showcase its vacation attractions to travelers from around the country and around the world."




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