Front Porch Blog

Southwest Virginia’s natural resources present new opportunities and challenges

Over the past decade, ecotourism has grown across the Appalachian region, and is one of the fastest-growing industries in Southwest Virginia. The Friends of Southwest Virginia, a partnership of regional leaders and community organizations, expect a 56 percent increase in tourism over the next decade. Many towns and cities that once relied on their vast deposits of natural resources to provide jobs in the coal, timber, and gas industries are now discovering that the same resources can be used for economic development in the tourism industry.

Ecotourism is becoming an increasingly important piece to the economic diversification puzzle in Southwest Virginia. Beyond providing jobs, the industry presents a unique opportunity to protect and preserve the environment.

That’s why the New Economy Network of Southwest Virginia, a regional citizens’ group that focuses on sustainable economic development and transition, is hosting a community meeting on August 27, 2019 in Pennington Gap, Va., to address the opportunities & challenges of ecotourism. The meeting will feature a panel discussion with local residents who have been directly involved with this growing sector of the economy.

Ecotourism Community Meeting

WHEN: Tuesday, August 27, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
WHERE: Pennington Gap Community Center, 41670 W. Morgan Avenue, Pennington Gap, Va.
For more information or to RSVP, please contact Tyler Hughes at Appalachian Voices at (276) 207-8686 or

The speakers for the community meeting will include Neil & Beth Walker of Stone Mountain Adventures. The couple have been long-time proponents of outdoor recreation in Wise County, and in 2018 they launched their very own business to offer visitors guided hikes, rafting trips and bike rentals.

Michelle Davalos, the U.S. Forest Service’s Clinch District Ranger for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, will also be speaking. Vast portions of the Jefferson National Forest border many of the communities in Wise County. The protected lands are home to several of the region’s most visited sites including Devil’s Bathtub and the High Knob Scenic Tower.

Also speaking will be Wally Smith, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Virginia at Wise. Smith, an avid hiker and environmentalist, has heavily focused his work on documenting salamander populations around Southwest Virginia. Recently, he has become an advocate for protecting streams and creeks from the negative impacts of improper stream crossings in the regional trail system.

Finally, the group of panelists will be rounded out with Appalachia Town Councilman, Travis Anderson, who has been a proponent of building a trail system to connect neighboring towns around Appalachia, Va.

This is the first of several community discussions the New Economy Network will host in the coming months on a variety of topics related to sustainable economic and community development across Southwest Virginia. The information gathered at these sessions will be used to further residents’ engagement as the region continues to shift to a more diversified economy.

A new economy for Southwest Virginia will only become a reality if the regions’ residents work together to make a community-driven vision a reality — we hope you’ll join us for this important discussion!

Tyler Hughes is the New Economy Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. He is dedicated to seeing the Appalachian region become a place where everyone can reach their full potential.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube