By Kimber Ray
As the gateway to the West, Cumberland Gap once marked the main passageway through the Appalachian Mountains for both wildlife and people. More than 200 years have since passed, but the area retains a wealth of historic and natural resources, such as a restored mountain settlement, sandstone caves, and waterfalls. By linking up these destinations with nearby towns, the Tri-State Regional Trail Committee, led by Bell County Adventure Tourism Director Jon Grace, plans to work across state lines to cultivate a new branch of economic diversity for the region.
The Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, situated on 26 miles of forested landscape in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, hosts a network of trails, including a portion of the Great Eastern Trail, which runs from Georgia to New York. Combined with the appeal of other growing projects, such as the nearby Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park, tourism is growing in the region.
The committee of tourism officials, trail groups and community members plans to help communities share their tourism appeal and connect to the growing trail network by building multi-use trails for activities such as hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. With a survey and map already complete, the group is putting their finishing touches on an Aug. 1 grant application to the National Park Service. “We’re looking at how we can get people to stay for more than a day,” says Grace.