Updated: Dec 31, 2021
The Appalachian Restoration Project attempts to reclaim and redefine Appalachian identity from within.
The interview questions are answered from the point of view of the organization called Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration, LLC (ASTC).
-Describe your contribution/work in the Appalachian region.
ASTC’s region of Appalachia is very large. It is made up of 112 counties. These service area is found in East Kentucky, Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Southern West Virginia.
Mission: Help create sustainable high quality experiences for tourists.
Vision: A region where tourists become stakeholders.
Ideally these stakeholders become residents, investors, volunteers, employees, employers, entrepreneurs, consultants, board members, public servants (politicians), stewards, fans, loyal customers, and donors.
Our service value innovation is helping tourists and stakeholders make more informed decisions on our Tourism and Stakeholder sites by providing free information and creating discussions on sustainable tourism topics and policy formation.
-What is your perception of Appalachia?
ASTC’s perception of Appalachia is that of a culture that is found within the Appalachian mountain range of North America. Since the late 1700s much has happened relative to the previous 2,000 years.
Looking at the last 75 years, Appalachian culture continues to become more homogeneous after the post WWII development boom. Radio, T.V. and infrastructure has let culture diffuse very quickly.
However there are areas within Appalachia that have had fair less diffusion. This was brought on by the strong coal industry and the politics found within. ASTC believes that these “coal country” areas will see a large influx of new citizens over the next 20 year. This will be facilitated by the potential for more diverse economic development with more stakeholder empowerment, which is a reversal of the post war boom of 1945.
-Is change needed internally within Appalachia regarding our culture’s self-perception?
Change with our self-perception should be found in two ways.
Individually (internally), each person should reflect upon themselves and on the community and region in which they live and operate. This will bring about a better understanding of yourself and where you fit in the world, and where your community fits in the world.
ASTC hopes to help with this type of internal change with our tourism site. Here our mission comes into view as locals find ways to self-reflect while in nature.
From a private and public sector point of view, nearly all change should come from within Appalachia. ASTC really likes grassroots endeavors because the people involved know the issues the best and have the most skin in the game to lose.
ASTC hopes to help with this type of collaborative change with our stakeholder site. Here our vision comes into view as tourists begin to connect with the landscape and become stakeholders themselves.
-How do we challenge damaging stereotypes of Appalachia?
This may sound contour intuitive to many stakeholders, but we can challenge damaging stereotypes by bringing in tourists to experience Appalachia. We passively connect them to the problems that are present.
ASTC has five goals to work on each year. Our goals mostly pertain to market failures.
One is our Adopt an Organization Program, which focuses on distressed counties as per the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Tourists may discover the ARC while trip planning on our site and be motivated intrinsically to visit areas where their dollars go much farther than other places in North America. Later they have the option to adopt an organization.
ASTC would actually like Guides to talk to tourists about current events and pressing issues so that tourists can more readily make a connection while in the region. This connection will help bring about more stakeholders.
Damaging stereotypes will take care of themselves as rural Appalachia’s economy and demographics profoundly change over the next 20 years. For example, one of our worst stereotypes is the running of small towns by the same families for generations. Many of these poorly managed towns may eventually disappear. The towns that have been better managed over the last 15 years have found ways to prosper. The prosperity that will take place over the next 20 years and beyond will help erode such negative stereotypes as more stakeholders relocate here with different values, interests, visions, and invested capital.
-How does your region of Appalachia inspire you?
ASTC is very optimistic over the next 20 years and is very excited. Some towns and communities have already hit rock bottom and are on the rise. Even though many small towns in Coal Country have yet to hit rock bottom, ASTC sees this crisis as an opportunity. Only when you are at your lowest moment can you be the most motivated for change.
ASTC is very inspired by our Coal Country tourism districts (Far Eastern KY, Far Southwestern VA, Southwestern WV), because of the opportunity to do things right with stakeholder buy in with policy formation. Also, there is much potential with nature based tourism that has not been reached, but its right there at our finger tips. Nature based tourism can help complement industry. That sounds like a contradiction but it is not. ASTC does not want to make the same mistakes as before with just focusing on a niche market with very similar labor skills, but instead we will help make a diversified economy that diffuses political power and creates more stakeholders who have more leverage to control their communities, life's, and the American Dream. A Dream that was prolonged in the summer of 1945.
Please go to our forum and provide us with feedback. Thank you.
Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration