The Harlan Chamber of Commerce heard a presentation explaining the benefits of becoming a Kentucky Trail Town from Kentucky Adventure Tourism representative Seth Wheat during a meeting on Wednesday.
Wheat explained to the chamber how the Trail Town program got started.
“Several years ago, the Office of Adventure Tourism was tasked with increasing trail mileage all over the state of Kentucky,” Wheat said. “We went to several places…and tried to build new trails. We weren’t really successful in doing that.”
Wheat said they reevaluated their strategy and settled on the idea of Trail Towns.
“The idea behind that is to get a community to capitalize on its proximity to an outdoor resource,” Wheat said. “Kentucky is full of outdoor resources.”
According to Wheat, the two top reasons for participation in the Trail Town program are the economic and physical benefits.
Harlan County already has one Trail Town designation. The Tri-Cities, consisting of Cumberland, Benham and Lynch, was added to the Trail Town roster on Nov. 23 as the 13th Trail Town in Kentucky. The Trail Town program is overseen by the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and is intended to help promote adventure tourism in the area.
The Trail Town program is aimed at connecting communities to trail systems and developing them as tourist destinations. It will guide travelers to trails, food, lodging, campgrounds, museums, entertainment and other services. The designation will help communities improve their tourism economy, add more jobs and create more tourism opportunities for the entire state.
Wheat pointed out the Trail Town program and adventure tourism in general could help improve the public health and assist in fighting increased obesity rates nationwide.
Wheat told the panel there is no state in the U.S. with an obesity rate below 20 percent, something that adventure tourism is designed to help improve.
“I believe that by increasing access to healthy outdoor recreation, we can be a pretty major player in moving that needle back,” Wheat said, referring to the increased obesity rates. “We can be an active proponent for getting people moving and having an active population.”
Wheat also mentioned outdoor tourism is a billion-dollar industry.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde.