OPPORTUNITY TO BRING ECONOMIC GROWTH TO SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA
Off highway vehicles (OHV) visits to national forests grew from 5 million in 1975 to a whopping 51 million in 2005 primarily because these were often the only places people could legally ride their ATV’s and dirt bikes. Entire trail systems are now being shutdown due to the heavy impact this magnitude of riders has had on the forest.
The number of off-highway vehicles grew from 400,000 in the early 1990s to more than 8 million by 2003. In 2007, the number of OHV participants grew to 42,991,200.
(The popularity of the sport has outpaced the development of appropriate trails for OHV use.)
Southwest Virginia borders both West Virginia and Kentucky who already have in place a system of OHV trails that are generating an estimated $19 million and $6 million respectively for their communities and creating upwards of 200 jobs.
Under the guidance and direction of Southwest Regional Recreation Authority (SRRA), an entity created by the Virginia Legislature in 2008, Virginia has the potential to surpass both West Virginia and Kentucky in both trail development and jobs created.
ABOUT THE SPEARHEAD TRAILS INITIATIVE
The Spearhead Trails project was started and initially facilitated by Virginia Tourism Corporation’s Partnership Alliance Marketing division. In 2008, the Virginia General Assembly established the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority (SRRA) under Chapter 648, sections 15.2-6016 thru 15.2-6024 of the Virginia Code.
The purpose and goal of SRRA is to oversee the development and management of the Spearhead Trail System within the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, Wise and the City of Norton.
LEGISLATION CREATING SRRA
The 2008 Virginia General Assembly “establishes an authority for Southwest Virginia to create a multi-purpose regional recreational area similar to, and potentially adjoining, such areas in West Virginia and Kentucky. The recreational area might consist of various trails and other amenities on private open-space lands where members of the public could, for example, hunt, fish, boat, camp, ride motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles, ride mountain bikes, or ride horses. The Southwest Regional Recreation Authority would have various powers to manage the area by raising funds, employing staff, and adopting rules punishable by civil penalties. Landowners participating in the recreation area would be afforded a limited liability for persons engaging in recreational activities on their property.”
ECONOMIC IMPACT AND BENEFITS
If developed under the guidance of SRRA, the proposed recreational trail system has the potential to bring 200,000 visitors to the region. Based on similar projects in adjacent states, this study estimates that the proposed trail system could bring an additional $30 million to local economies at a time when economic growth is desperately needed.
INCREASE IN THE WORKFORCE
300 to 500 full time equivalent laborers within the next 5 to 10 years.
Over a 5 month period, a study in which these findings are based was conducted by WMTH Corporation with assistance by Summit Engineering. The study was funded by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission and the Motorcycle Industry Council/Specialty Vehicle Institute of America. The purpose of the study was to determine the potential for developing and marketing trails in Southwest Virginia.
The findings determined, without a doubt, that there is HUGE POTENTIAL!
NEW JOBS AND BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
It will take $7 million for the Spearhead Trail seven county initiative to reach its full potential. $500,000 would be required to get existing trails up to standard, $5.5 million to develop new trails and $950,000 to staff SRRA. Funding can come from a variety of sources such as state and federal government, private donations, grants, etc.
SRRA Primary Objectives once funding is in place to hire full-time staff:
Through proper development by SRRA the Spearhead Trail System could be self sustaining within three to five years while generating an additional $30 million to the local economies and creating over 300 jobs.
Facilitate recreational trail development in each of the seven counties and the City of Norton that will create economic opportunities for local businesses.
Seek easements on large tracts of private land to create public trails.
Hire rangers to police the trails.
Work with public and private land owners to assist in the maintenance of existing trails and engage in good stewardship practices.
Provide assistance to the communities to both identify and write grants to help further the development, expansion, maintenance and marketing of the trails within the seven county/City of Norton project area.
Market and promote the Spearhead Trail System.
NATURAL ASSETS MAKE IT POSSIBLE
Southwest Virginia is blessed with a multitude of existing trails. There are over 500 miles of hiking trails and numerous nonmotorized multi-use trails primarily within or in close proximity to Jefferson National Forest or other public lands.
The region also offers excellent roads, many of which are being developed into themed driving trails, which in themselves can become major tourist attractions and encourage increased travel through the region.
Being in the heart of coal country, there are large parcels of private land with single ownership throughout southwest Virginia, many of which already have a network of trails created from old coal roads, gas roads and timber roads that, although often used, are not open to the public.
The region also offers some excellent fishing streams, a network of rivers and a world renowned Class 3 to 5 whitewater run.
STRATEGIC LOCATION PROMISES SUCCESS
The Spearhead Trails area is strategically located within close proximity to major populations. With rising fuel costs, travelers have a renewed emphasis for recreational opportunities close to home. There are 163,000,000 potential visitors within one day’s drive (600 mile radius) of the study area. The unique terrain that combines rolling hills, mountains and wide valleys makes it all the more appealing to others outside the region.