Appalachia’s gateway communities — towns bordering national and state parks and forests– balance their need for economic growth with their interest in preserving the surrounding natural ecosystems, landscapes, and cultural heritage. Since 2007, ARC, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the Conservation Fund have partnered on the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative (AGCI) offering targeted technical assistance, community tourism assessments, tourism planning workshops, and small grants for project implementation for these communities. In addition to enhancing a community’s natural assets, the AGCI also emphasizes the role of the arts –particularly in revitalizing downtowns – in the development of a comprehensive natural and cultural heritage tourism development strategy.
As part of AGCI, community-based teams participate in intensive workshops to develop economic development actions plans specifically leveraging the surrounding natural and cultural assets. These action plans drive innovative economic development. In 2018, AGCI launched, the Advanced Project Implementation Workshop — an advanced 3-day workshop for gateway communities ready to implement new or ongoing community projects and put their plans into action. Since AGCI was first launched, the program has supported 12 regional and place-based workshops, issued 36 grants, and engaged with 153 counties across 12 states to improve Appalachia’s natural and cultural assets and tourism development.