“People coming together as a community can make things happen.”
– Jacob Rees Mogg
These words couldn’t be more true….. And our recent trip to Southwest Virginia to learn about their community development showed us the truth of Jacob Rees Mogg’s words.
Ohio’s Rising Appalachia packed up and hit the road to visit 7 prominent communities in Southwest Virginia whose revitalization efforts proved that a community’s vision and efforts do make a difference and do pay off.
Cleveland, VA – a town who once thrived as a coal, livestock, and lumber community – now with a population of 190 was where we began our journey. The passion and determination this town has to revitalize their town and create more resources and opportunities was inspiring to anyone who hears their voice. This is one community whose hospitality was enough to make me want to stay. The Cleveland locals have taken action into their own hands- installing their own walking trails and cleaning debris from the river that passes through the old coal town. The drive for a better and more sustainable community was obvious. But the open arms they welcomed us with was the most significant part of the town. The election of a new mayor and new council has provided a whole new perspective for growth within the community instead of consistent road blocks the town has run into previously.
Other communities such as St. Paul, whose greatest regional asset is the Clinch River – one of the most bio-diverse rivers in North America, has drawn in recreational tourism opportunities because of the work of revitalization programs and directors who have pinpointed the region’s opportunities for a sustainable economy. A new vision of the community has inspired other entrepreneurs to create new business opportunities thus creating more jobs and tourism outlets. This community focused on watershed levels with local partnerships and collaborative efforts that connects downtown revitalization, outdoor recreation, water quality, entrepreneurship, and environmental education.
Main Street programs in towns such as Marion and Gaylax have granted entrepreneurial opportunities to locals by assisting them with business plans – which is what many new entrepreneurs fear the most. Free business workshops are provided to anyone who is interested in starting their own business. Grant funding helps with some of the initial start up costs and the community’s support is what plants the seed for the success of these businesses.
Beautiful Damascus, VA – an eclectic and friendly town along the Appalachia Trail, was a great learning experience for our group. Current projects are helping to boost sustainable tourism by identifying the town as an outdoor recreation mecca due to immediate access to the Appalachian Trail, Virginia Creeper Bike Path, some of the best fishing sites, camping, and more. Prominent local spark plugs are leveraging property acquisitions to help develop an outdoor community amphitheater and expand lodging which in time will link main street corridor to river access just two blocks away.
Although we visited several vibrant places, there were a few commonalities that these communities shared – a common goal of creating a better place for the people who live there and having strong relationship on the local, state, and federal level for collaborative efforts. Each community also had a spark-plug…. a person or two who were engaged in making a change at the local level for the communities in which they live.
This trip was a wonderful way for The Winding Road to further expand on our branding effort to help develop and promote regional tours, events, sites, and products utilizing existing and newly identified assets. We were also able to gain a new perspective in order to provide opportunities for enhanced learning around entrepreneurial needs.
Many thanks to the wonderful people who opened their arms to our group and showed us the power of passion and love for your community. We all took something away from our trip and are eager to stir things up in Ohio’s Rising Appalachia!