Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative: Providing Tools for Tourism 

Appalachia’s gateway communities — towns bordering on publicly owned lands, like national and state parks and forests — often find themselves caught between promotion and preservation. Promoting nature and culture is key for economic growth, especially for areas experiencing economic distress and transition. Too much use, however, impacts the preservation needed to maintain trails, waterways, crafting traditions, and more for future generations. 

To help communities develop thoughtful strategies around some of Appalachia’s most treasured assets,  The Conservation Fund launched the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative (AGCI) in 2007 with support from ARC and the National Endowment for the Arts.  

Smart, Sustainable Planning  

During the three-day workshop, participating teams hear from national and regional experts, exchange ideas with other teams, and ultimately develop action plans for their communities. Before, during, and after the workshop, teams receive targeted technical assistance, community tourism assessments, small grants for project implementation, and more.  

To date, AGCI has supported 12 regional and place-based workshops, issued 46 grants, and engaged teams representing 51 counties across 12 Appalachian states. 

Exciting Outcomes in Communities 

What does a gateway community plan look like? In the mountains of Eastern Tennessee, two different AGCI teams have put their ideas into action.  

Tracy City, Tennessee was originally settled as a coal mining town, but eventually found itself on the edge of the South Cumberland State Park’s Fiery Gizzard Trail. To become a gateway community for this asset, a group of Tracy City representatives attended AGCI in 2019 to develop a comprehensive tourism strategy. The Tracy City team’s plan focused on the revitalization and connection of two culturally significant landmarks: Railroad Avenue and Mountain Goat Trail. A seed grant from the workshop helped fund the development of a master plan connecting the assets through a new public park, which the team and their partners are currently completing. 

Tennessee’s South Cumberland Tourism Partnership represents six counties bordering the 31,000-acre South Cumberland State Park. The Partnership started as a small team at the 2019 AGCI workshop, where they were inspired by model community and ARC partner, The Pennsylvania Wilds. Seeing a similar opportunity for their own region, they got to work on action plans leveraging their unique nature and culture. The Partnership is now finalizing incorporation papers to officially become a 501(c)3 that unites local leaders and businesses around responsible tourism strategies that can create and sustain new businesses and jobs.  

Is Your Community Next? Apply Now! 

If your community has the opportunity to be a gateway for nature and culture, form your team and apply to attend the 2022 workshop on October 25-27 in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Interested organizations are invited to attend an informational webinar on Thursday, July 14 from 10:00-11:00 am ET for program highlights, application information, and a live Q&A session.  

Letters of Interest for this year’s workshop are due by Monday, July 25, and final applications are due Monday, August 22.