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Community College to Improve Outdoor Tourism Services in Coal Country

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

Making the case for the Adventure Tourism Outdoor Recreation (ATOR) Program at Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC).

SWCC is located in the Heart of our general 112 county tourism region, that being on the county lines of Russell and Tazewell, Virginia. Found within the Business Program Pathway, the ATOR program is primarily designed to create entrepreneurs who focus on outdoor tourism, and to connect alumni to small employee organizations. The program has been around since roughly 2017.

We believe that outdoor tourism is our best asset to focus upon as we continue to struggle to diversify the economy in distressed counties as per the Appalachian Regional Commision. We have over 80 years of forest succession due to the creation of US National Forests made legal by the Weeks Act. This Federal Public Domain Land is matched up well with state nature based lands such as the Pine Mountains Wildlands Corridor. And in 2019, The Nature Conservancy acquired 153,000 acres, nearly all found in Dickenson County, VA.

There are two themes woven within the program. Servant Leadership, and Community Service. What is great about these two themes is that it provides staff with guidance on educating students, and then alumni will use these same themes to connect tourists to the landscape with interpretive guiding (servant leadership), and creating stakeholder connections that are needed for recreation on public lands (community service).

A very important task for SWCC as they work to reconnect with communities after little outreach in 2020 is to help connect their students to stakeholders who have a vision for a robust outdoor tourism service industry in Central Appalachia. These connections will help alumni gain experiences and improve their references; and best yet learn what market failures to focus upon as an entrepreneur, or what a strong business model looks like when looking for an employer.

The ATOR program offers fourteen classes, and five are being taught this Fall semester (2021). The program offers two tracts. The first is the Career Studies Certificate (CSC) which helps students who need a fast track option. There are five options with the CSC that include, Adventure Tourism, Guide Essentials, Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Outdoor Interpretation & Education, and Outdoor Recreation. This is an impressive and diverse offering! Found only within the CSC tract is the option to have a coordinated internship that is 2 credits (10 hours a week), or a 1-5 credit capstone course that can be research or project based. The second tract is a transferable Business Administration degree with a specialization in Outdoor Leadership. After conducting research on higher education Universities, we found that the best matchup for the ATOR 2 year degree is located in the New River Valley of Radford University. Their Outdoor Recreation and Leadership program compliments ATOR well. The Highlanders even offer Minors in Management, and Entrepreneurship. Additionally, WVU Tech in Beckley has a great match up too, Adventure Recreation Management. However it should be noted that Eastern KY University, Western Carolina University, University of Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Marshall all match up well with ATOR.

SWCC also hosts one of America’s Small Business Development Centers which helps students with creating their entrepreneurship. We highly recommend a value innovation that offers VIP experiences with 24 hour clientele services in order to brand the region for global tourism.

ASTC is very excited about ATOR, because it will help us improve upon our biggest market failure, the one that is preventing us from connecting tourists to the landscape and culture.

For more information on the Adventure Tourism and Outdoor Recreation program at Southwest Virginia Community College, please call 276-964-7703, or email:

Thank you for reading.

Travis Stanley

Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration

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