Southern towns seek to boost outdoor recreation and revitalize Main Streets

Eight southern towns received a boost in efforts to grow their outdoor recreation economies and revitalize Main Streets, thanks to funding from the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program, a joint effort between the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Northern Border Regional Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The economic impact of outdoor recreation near our national forests and grasslands is vital to support health and prosperity in rural America,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Efforts to reinvigorate main streets through the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities program is an important step to help communities realize all the benefits that adjacent national forests and grasslands make possible.”

Eight communities in the South were selected: Buchanan and Buena Vista in Virginia; Clairfield, Tenn.; Columbiana, Ala.; Fairfield County, S.C.; Hartwell, Ga.; Jenkins and McKee in Kentucky.

Judy Schmitt, chair of the McKee Trail Town Committee, said the county, which has 40 bed and breakfasts, is ready to be a recreation destination.

“We envision Jackson County to be the gateway into the Hills of eastern Kentucky, the Daniel Boone National Forest, The Kentucky Wildlands, the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreational Area and the Warriors Path,” said Schmitt. This “project will help us create jobs, support economic growth and diversification, and offer new opportunities for people to connect with the natural beauty in our national forest and community parks.”

McKee, in Jackson County and home to about 1,000 people, is surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest. The town also is a designated Kentucky Trail Town with direct access to the Warrior’s Path Trail and Kentucky’s longest trail, the Sheltowee Trace.

Through the program, county officials hope to attract more visitors who want to recreate and enjoy the region’s natural beauty. With more than 58,000 acres of the national forest in the county, they would like to expand opportunities to hike, bike, fish and ride horseback.

With outdoor activities increasingly popular across the United States, small towns are jumping on this trend. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis calculated the economic output of outdoor recreation in 2020 to be $689 billion, surpassing industries such as mining, utilities, farming and ranching.

A federal planning team will work with each community over the course of four to six months, with a community workshop as the focal point. Participants will work together to develop strategies and an action plan to grow their local outdoor recreation economies. Communities were chosen following a comprehensive interagency review process from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

The Forest Service develops and implements place-based recreation planning using collaborative processes with communities and outdoor recreation and tourism providers within regional destination areas.

You can learn more about this program at Recreation Economy for Rural Communities.


picture of a sign with a bike rider in the background

McKee, Ky. was among 25 communities selected nationally to receive funding through the Recreational Economy for Rural Communities program to expand recreational access and revitalize their main streets. A designated Kentucky Trail Town, McKee is surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest and includes direct access to Kentucky’s longest trail, the Sheltowee Trace. (Photo courtesy of Kentucky Tourism)