Interested stakeholders can learn more about West Virginia Universitys new community development initiative to promote forestry heritage tourism during a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 27, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. at Blackwater Falls State Park.

Researchers in WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences and the WVU Extension Service were recently awarded a $537,648 grant by the Fund for Rural America program to create a unified tourism effort for the central Appalachian Mountain region from western Maryland to southeastern West Virginia.

“These forest heritage tourist destinations will provide high-quality, forestry-related retail products, programs, events and visitor services,”said Theresa Goldman, assistant professor of forest resource management at WVU and one of the project leaders.

The four-year project will initially involve a collaborative visioning and planning process. The purpose of the Nov. 27 meeting is to establish a vision for the trail.

The project will eventually implement two community-based projects in Elkins and Webster Springs. The focus will later extend to other communities in the region.

The project has already drawn substantial support from potential stakeholders.

“Both nationally and in West Virginia, communities are discovering how well the preservation of historical, cultural and natural resources combines with tourism development to enable communities to diversify their economies and promote traditional ways of life,”said Alisa Bailey, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Tourism.”The forestry heritage trail as envisioned by WVU is an innovative concept that builds upon extensive stakeholder collaboration and grassroots tourism development.”

“The forestry industry is a key asset in West Virginia and is responsible for much of our heritage,”said Susie Salisbury, former heritage tourism program coordinator for the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia.”West Virginia and western Maryland have a wealth of potential heritage sites, which can create a unique opportunity for community and economic development growth within the region.”

According to project leaders, states like Minnesota and North Carolina in partnership with their cooperative extension services have also developed tourism research and outreach centers. In 1999, $2.5 million of Pennsylvanias state funding was used to develop the concept of Heritage Parks to assist local areas in promoting their industrial heritage.

All interested individuals or groups are welcome to attend the Nov. 27 meeting. For information on the project or to attend the meeting, contact Goldman at 304-293-2941, ext. 2416.