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Kentucky Wildlands receives $1.2 Million

By Eugenia Jones

In March, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) awarded more than one million dollars ($1,200,000) to Eastern Kentucky PRIDE, Inc. to further develop The Kentucky Wildlands regional tourism marketing initiative in forty-one southern and eastern Kentucky counties, including McCreary County.  The award is one of 21 recent awards to coal-impacted communities through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. The POWER initiative guides federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries.

The Kentucky Wildlands is a regional tourism marketing initiative showcasing the region’s natural beauty and heritage with the goal of driving economic development.  Components of the initiative include a media campaign, hospitality education, itinerary development, and entrepreneur training.    Launched by Eastern Kentucky PRIDE, Inc., a nonprofit organization, with grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission and Economic Development Administration, The Kentucky Wildlands initiative currently offers maps, itineraries, educational materials, and more to communities and visitors.  With receipt of the 2022 POWER grant award, the Kentucky Wildlands branding initiative for the region will expand to all 41 counties.

Tammy Nazario, current President and CEO of PRIDE, is excited about the funding.

“We are grateful to the ARC for this investment in the people and economy of southern and eastern Kentucky,” Nazario said.  “For twenty-five years now, PRIDE has partnered with communities to clean up solid waste and water quality problems, and now we are unified in marketing our great outdoors and deep heritage as a regional tourist destination-The Kentucky Wildlands.  The ARC funds will allow us to promote this regional brand and support communities in building their tourism economies.”

As a partner with the Kentucky Wildlands, McCreary County’s Tourism Director, Michelle Perry, attended the award presentation in Youngstown, Ohio when Eastern Kentucky PRIDE became the recipient of the $1.2 million ARC POWER Grant.

“Being invited to go to Youngstown, Ohio, as a partner of the Kentucky Wildlands, while Eastern Kentucky PRIDE became the recipient of a $1.2 million ARC POWER Grant was an amazing honor,” Perry stated.  “Joining forces with The Kentucky Wildlands only increases our ability to promote our area.  Our natural assets can drive economic development through tourism.  Our mission goes hand in hand with The Kentucky Wildlands vision.  I feel that their approach can only help overcome barriers that our small community faces when trying to attract tourists.”

According to the ARC webpage, “…by marketing itself as a regional recreation destination, Southeastern Kentucky can attract more visitors to both its outdoor sites and main streets, which can in turn spur small business growth and downtown revitalization.    Kentucky Wildlands will use POWER support to develop a robust regionalized tourism marketing plan, conduct hospitality workforce trainings in communities, expand its digital presence, catalog National Historic Properties throughout Appalachian Kentucky, and more. By the end of the two-year project period, Kentucky Wildlands expects to serve 118 communities and create 100 jobs.”

Photo by Eugenia Jones

The Kentucky Wildlands received a $1.2 million ARC POWER grant to continue development of the tourism initiative.

Heritage Foundation leads in developing plan for McCreary County

By Eugenia Jones

Last week (March 29, 2022), McCreary County’s Deputy Judge Nathan Nevels, Tourism Director Michelle Perry, and representatives of the Kentucky Wildlands were among those who attended a meeting hosted by McCreary County Heritage Foundation Chairperson Ray Moncrief and Co-chairperson JC Egnew in Stearns to facilitate the development of a McCreary County Strategic Economic/Tourism Comprehensive Development Plan using funds secured by the McCreary County Heritage Foundation, Inc. (MCHF) via a Rural Business Development Grant (USDA.)  The initial grant application was written and submitted in March 2021 by MCHF along with letters of support for the application and project written by various individuals and organizations, including The Kentucky Wildlands, McCreary County Judge Executive’s Office, McCreary County Tourism, and McCreary County Chamber of Commerce.  Through the grant, MCHF was awarded $25,000 (plus an additional $5,000 of required matching funds from MCHF) for contractual work to be used for development of the Economic/Tourism Plan.  

The Foundation’s “McCreary County Strategic Economic/Tourism Comprehensive Development Plan” will be developed and written by Lexington-based MSE of Kentucky, Inc. which specializes in architect, engineering, and planning.  According to MSE, the company will develop a planning document for McCreary County which identifies short and long-term tourism, social, and economic development goals and objectives.  The plan will further identify and prioritize strategic actions to be taken by the County and its stakeholders.

A draft report of the plan is expected by July 1, 2022.

Additionally during the meeting, MCHF Chairperson Ray Moncrief spoke about the importance of local involvement with the Kentucky Wildlands initiative and described recent renovations to the Big South Fork Scenic Railway including “rebuilds” of the existing railroad and scenic passenger train (including train components and cars.)  

“Now, we hope to rebuild downtown Stearns,” Moncrief declared.

The feasibility of rebuilding downtown Stearns hinges significantly on the MCHF receiving awards for a rebuild of downtown as requested in recent grant proposals.  If received, awards for these proposals will allow the Foundation to quickly begin rebuilding the old Stearns Administration Building (currently housing The McCreary County Museum) and Stores 1 and 3.  

If a rebuild of downtown Stearns is achieved, the Foundation’s focus will then shift to building a camping area for both RVs and tents, building a walking trail around the old mill pond, and developing a visitor center.

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