Promoting forestry heritage tourism in the central Appalachian Mountain region is the goal of a new community development initiative being led by researchers at West Virginia University.

Funded by a $537,648 grant from the Fund for Rural America program, the proposal,”Developing a Forestry Heritage Trail in West Virginia and Western Maryland,”will be administered by the U.S. Department of Agricultures Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

The projects goal over the next four years is to create a unified tourism effort for the central Appalachian Mountain region, from Western Maryland to Southeastern West Virginia. Because of the areas close proximity to highly populated urban areas such as Washington D.C., and Baltimore, Md., it is a key tourism destination not only for West Virginia residents, but also for the surrounding urban populace.

“These forest heritage tourist destinations will provide high-quality, forestry-related retail products, programs, events and visitor services,”said project leader Theresa Goldman, an assistant professor of recreation, parks and tourism resources in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences. Other project leaders include David McGill, associate professor of forest resource management in the Davis College and specialist with the WVU Extension Service; and Kenneth Martin, director of the WVU Extension Service Program Center for Agriculture and Natural Resource Development and associate dean of the Davis College.

The four-year project will initially involve a collaborative visioning and planning process. Then the project will implement two community-based pilot projects in Elkins and Webster Springs. The focus will later extend to other communities in the region.

Heritage tourism involves the preservation of historical, cultural and natural resources combined with tourism development to enable communities to diversify their economies and promote traditional ways of life.

Heritage tourism is emerging as the tourism industrys fastest growing segment, according to a recent study conducted by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia. The 1999 study concluded that heritage tourism in West Virginia created an additional business volume of $46.7 million in the state in 1996, and directly employed 520 West Virginians.