Develop trails, ‘develop the entire region’: Counties join forces to help clear the way for adventure tourism

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Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 9:33 PM EDT
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MARTIN/JOHNSON COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - When the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority was established in 2019, Eastern Kentucky counties began planning and working toward one goal: mapping, marking, and marketing a trails system throughout the region.

The KMRRA fanned the flames of tourism, highlighting the success of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails in West Virginia and the Spearhead Trails System in Virginia, creating a discussion about adventure tourism. The original plans for the trails authority suggested that working to connect trails around the region could be step one in connecting to the larger trails outside of the state.

“We’ve been talking about this thing since 2005. So, now it’s very exciting to actually now put boots on the ground, go out there,” said Martin County Judge-Executive Victor Slone. “We’re finally starting to map our area here and starting to develop the trails.”

While many have shoved off the idea, assuming it was on the backburner, groups in Johnson and Martin County have been working to keep the dream alive.

”Because we’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting an authority up and running. Hatfield and McCoy took 20 years,” said Johnson County KMRRA representative Lara Pack.

The group met Saturday to map, clear, and clean up trails ahead of Saturday’s Van Lear ATV Trail Ride. The clean-up came one week after the counties met to discuss plans for mapping a trail to connect Butcher Holler to the hills of Martin County.

“Those two places are economic centers that we can grow these economies and get some supporting businesses started,” said Pack.

Slone said creating tourism is not about one county, it is about connections. Which is why he believes Martin County would benefit greatly from the partnership, linking the potential of downtown Inez with Van Lear’s historic coal town appeal.

“Develop the entire region. You know, we can’t look at county lines anymore. We’ve kind of got to go past that,” said Slone.

Johnson County Judge-Executive Mark McKenzie agreed, saying the potential tourism that comes with the trails can not be stressed enough.

“No one piece of our economy is going to be solved with one solution, so we’re gonna have to put pieces together to make it work and the ATV- adventure tourism is just one piece of our puzzle,” McKenzie said.

The group hopes to see advancements in the days to come, marking small steps toward the end goal of a three-state stretch that would allow riders a variety of options for hitting the hills.

Volunteers are welcome to get involved in the process by contacting the Martin County Fiscal Court or the Johnson County Fiscal Court.

“We are very blessed with a community that has a great volunteer spirit,” said Pack. “And that’s a very important thing because- as we all know- budgets are stressed. But getting volunteers out who are invested and excited is a great alternative.”

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