Last updated: June 20. 2014 2:09PM - 628 Views
Special to Civitas Media

Photo courtesy of DDMOne of the many events that attract visitors to Fountain Square each year.
Photo courtesy of DDMOne of the many events that attract visitors to Fountain Square each year.
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Discover Downtown Middlesboro has been awarded a $7,500 grant from the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative to help the Passage Through the Gap Partnership to implement a plan to establish a tourism ambassador training program.

As an important entry point to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, communities in the Cumberland Gap area between Barbourville and Martin’s Station, Va., sent a diverse team of local leaders, land managers as well as tourism and community arts representatives to participate in a three-day program earlier this year.

The Appalachian Gateway Communities Regional Workshops focused on helping communities spark economic development while maintaining and enhancing quality of life.

The participating communities extended from Alabama to New York and engaged in action-planning exercises designed to identify the unique Appalachian characteristics that make the communities appealing places to live, work and recreate.

Working with national and regional experts on sustainable tourism, economic development, the arts, natural and cultural resources, transportation and branding, the Passage Through the Gap Partnership team crafted a new vision that aims to enhance tourism, economic development and job creation efforts in the area.

Team leader Isaac Kremer, executive director with Discover Downtown Middlesboro, said, “Through our strategic planning over the past year we identified enhancing tourism and regional collaboration as major goals. The Appalachian Gateways workshop served to simply accelerate plans we already had. We’re thrilled to bring the Certified Tourism AmbassadorTM program to our area ─ an approach that has successfully aligned businesses to enhance the visitor experience in 17 states, with over 11,000 front-line CTAs.”

The workshops and accompanying seed grants were presented by the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative, a partnership by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Conservation Fund and the National Trust for Historic Preservation that aims to help Appalachian gateway communities build thriving economies while protecting and conserving precious natural and cultural heritage qualities and strengthening the overall quality of life.

Fourteen teams participated in the workshops. Nine teams were awarded seed grants totaling $60,000 to carry out their on-the-ground plans.

“The Passage Through the Gap Partnership was an ideal candidate for an Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative seed grant because it demonstrated a clear need with a proposed project that is well-crafted, achievable and designed to address the need,” said Kris Hoellen, vice president of Sustainable Programs at The Conservation Fund. “The project’s potential for both expanding and diversifying access to the artistic, cultural and natural heritage of the area will help to strengthen the community and spark sustainable economic development.”

The Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative was developed by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007. The Gateway Initiative has helped gateway communities across Appalachia expand tourism and other economic development opportunities through community assessments, tourism planning workshops and grants for project implementation.

The Conservation Fund and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have partnered to strengthen the leadership capacity of towns, cities and communities that neighbor publicly protected natural and recreational lands in distressed, transitional or at-risk counties.

The regional workshops were held this winter at the Heartwood Center in Abingdon, Va., and at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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