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The Wayne County Area of West Virginia. A Brief Primer on the Nature Based Tourism Potential

Updated: Mar 17, 2022


The Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration has a 112 county general area that we promote. We are exited to present the excellent potential of the Wayne County area.

County Population: ~39,000.

County Seat: Wayne. ~1,000 It’s almost in the center of the state, and closer to the northern area.


The western portions of the county are seperated from KY by water, which is great.

At the towns of Louisa, KY and Fort Gay, WV, the Levisa Fork meets the Tug Fork and they become the Big Sandy River which flows north to the Ohio River.

Most of the county is located in the Ohio River Valley. Huntington is at ~560 feet. The southeastern portion of the county is part of the Allegheny Plateau. Not surprisingly the highest elevation is ~1,570 feet near Wilsondale. Fort Gay is ~580 feet, so getting guests to locations will not be too much of a climb, and the weather will not change too fast.


All mileage and distance measurements will be from Fort Gay, WV (we will explain later).

Take note, if you are new to rural Appalachia, 30 minutes drives are common and not considered a long drive for locals.

Surrounding area: 8 counties and 2 other states. That’s a lot of connectivity!

Boyd County, KY Northwest of the county is Ashland as the county seat.

Lawrence County, KY The county seat (Louisa) borders Wayne county, which is great.

Martin County, KY. Your neighbor to the southwest. No bridge found.

Mingo County, WV. Your neighbor to the south. A bridge is located in Kermit.

Cabell County, WV Most of the Huntington metro is in this county.

Lincoln County, WV Your neighbor to the east.

Logan County, WV A point of this county connects to southeastern Wayne county.

Lawerence County, OH. Across the river and north of Huntington. As of 2022 we have not expanded into Ohio so this premier will neglect this state, but it's important to note this county is apart of the metro population.

Ashland and Huntington is about .7 hours, or 32 miles away. This metro offers a staggering 349,000 population. Because Wayne County is connected to Huntington it will recieve more attention than towns in Kentucky and Ohio. You and Cabell County will be the backyards of Huntington. That actually would be a great logo or slogan for your outfitter or organization. You could network with Cabell county to complement each other with Huntington as the hub. But don’t forget about KY and OH. Remember to complement, not compete.

The state Capital is about 1.5 hours, or 82 miles away. That is excellent for Appalachia. For reference, Lee County, VA is closer to the state capital of S.C. than it is to Richmond.

The Appalachian Regional Commission

“Wayne County, West Virginia is designated as an at-risk county in fiscal year 2022. The maximum ARC match rate for projects funded in this county is 70%. This county has 6 distressed areas in fiscal year 2022.”

This may help you with applying for loans and grants.

Take note: Cabell county is a transitioning County, but the other 7 are either distressed or at risk. It’s rare to have a transitioning county next door in Central Appalachia, so take advantage of this.

Avenue of Approach

It’s Excellent for Appalachia. It’s like having your cake and eating it too, because you are out in the sticks, but you can have global tourists there in less than 2 hours after touchdown. Good luck finding that anywhere else in our 112 county area. Check out our Air Plane page to find the international airports in our region.

Charleston has an International Airport. 1.45 hours, or 84 miles away.

Note, this is huge because International airports offer passport checks (global tourism). This airport just got this designation in late 2021!

Huntington Tri-State Airport. .5 hours, or 25 miles away.

After stopping in Ashland, KY, the Amtrak goes through Huntington. ~.6 hours, or 32 miles away before heading east to the capital. It’s actually about the same time and distance if you pick Ashland or Huntington to get off the train. We aren’t making this up. So it’s like two big cities for the price of one.

There is a Greyhound bus stop in Huntington .6 hours, or 32 miles away.

Ashland has a Greyhound terminal also. You’ve got choices for your trip planners. Lucky you.

I-64 goes through the north tip of the county. Exit 8 is a quick way to get to the county seat, which is .33 hours or 15 miles away (from the exit).

US Route 23 is on the other side of the Big Sandy River (KY) and connects you to Jacksonville, FL, and Michigen.

This road is a 4-lane from Louisa, KY to the north, and goes south as a 4-lane road. Excellent!

US Route 52 does grow through the western portions of the county and can connect you to Charleston, SC, and North Dakota. It is usually a 2-lane road.

There are no Adventure Cycling US Bike routes that go through Wayne county and the surrounding area.

The Great Eastern Trail goes through Mingo County to the south. Granted, not all of the trail is completed.

Overview Conclusion

The Huntington metro will most likely expand south over the next 20 years. We believe the Wayne County area is a buyers market.

The closer you can get to Ashland/Huntington, with a great recreational opportuity specturm, with a 4 lane highway, and organizations to collaborate with, the better. The Louisa, Ky / Fort Gay, WV complex appears to be the point that would generate the best place for a base of operations. We recommend the Fort Gay side because Huntington will provide all kinds of free advertisement and marketing for you. Remember, Ashland is not in Lawrence county.

Tourism Potential


WV has done a lot of heavy lifting with the Hatfield McCoy Trails. All enterprises must capitalize on the Hatfield McCoy Trails in some capacity. Two examples are the cabins and Outfitters that keep growing.

Charleston has decided that Wayne County is part of the Hatfield-McCoy Mountains tourism district. Wise choice. Your trail will be found inside the Cabwaylingo State Forest, which is unique, because the Hatfield McCoy Tourism Authority, and the State Parks are responsible for its use. More Collaboration! Guess what? The recreational opportunity spectrum is very diverse because it is made to handle Land Cruisers and Jeeps. We aren't making this up. See our Motor Category to discover more.

Vehicle rental potential looks great. Louisa, KY actually has a SXS rental place there! 41 minutes from the Ivy Branch Trail. All signs point to the Fort Gay area of Wayne County.

Kentucky will soon start creating their own SXS trails.

There is an Outfitter in Louisa, KY that you can collaborate with! They are strong with fishing, and offer kayak rentals.

Surrounding Anchor Points

Williamson is just south of the county, which is 1 hour, or 49 miles away.

Just outside Williamson is The Buffalo Mountain Trail which is 1 hour, or 52 miles away.

This trail focuses more on single track. More opportunities!

In Logan County there is the Chief Logan State Park 1.33 hours, or 65 miles away.

Matewan is 1.33 hours, or 62 miles away. Please go by this small town to see how they have embraced tourism.

Thanks to the Big Sandy River, you have a strong anchor point with Louisa, KY the county seat of Lawrence. This is a 11 minute walk or .5 miles away on the other side of the bridge which connects to Fort Gay, WV.

Nature Based Tourism

You have the large Beech Fork Lake Wildlife Management Area .6 hours, or 26 miles.

East Lynn Lake Wildlife Management Area is 1.5 hours, or 30 miles away.

The Cabwaylingo State Park is .66 hours, or 30 miles, and is a huge asset due to the lodging.

The Big Ugly Wildlife Management Area to the east is in Lincoln County. 1.5 hours, or 57 miles away.

Note the size of these large green blobs on the map. Lots of potential for ecotourism.

There is not any federal public domain land (National Forests or Parks) in the Wayne County area. That is ok, because Charleston keeps showing that they are committed to improving their State Parks and Forests.

Just to the west, Kentucky has the 4 best spots to go whitewater rafting.

2 are real close.

Grayson Lake State Park is just a tick over an hour away, or 41 miles.

The John Flannagan Dam is 2.2 hours, or 107 miles away. This actually has class 4 and 5 rapids around October of every year.

The Big Sandy River should be mostly calm, but the Tug Fork should offer more adventure after a hard rain.

To the NW is the Draganfly Outdoor Adventures is 1 hour, or 47 miles away (Greenup County, KY).

Looking west into KY. The Yatesville Lake State Park is just .25 hours, or 10 miles away.

Looking SW, Paintsville Lake State Park is .5 hours, or 31 miles away. And Paintsville, KY has a population of ~4,000, and has grown over the last 10 years. The US Route 23 can get you there very quickly thanks to being a 4 lane road. It is .6 hours, or 31 miles away.

If you become a location that offers information for adventures deep in the sticks you will need to know your area well, specifically what Search & Rescue Teams to network with, and where advanced medical treatment can be found.

See our Search & Rescue and Trauma Care page for a more detailed list.

Trip Planning

How are potential tourists going to find out about your operation in Wayne County?

Again, you’ve got to collaborate with the Hatfield McCoy Tourism Authority in hopes of getting on their website. You don’t have to focus on ATVs and such, but find a way to get on their site.

The Huntington County Chamber has got your back and has an excellent website. Remember the geography of Huntington. Nearly half of the land mass is adjacent to KY, and Ohio, so they will be most motivated to push tourists south and to the east. Again, it’s like having your cake and eating it too in Wayne County.

We at Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration have got your back. We offer over 65 tourism topics to place a link.

Please exhaust all resources with how you plan to market yourself.

If we like your mission and vision we will put you on our sponsor page for free.

What are the constraints that will inhibit tourists while trip planning?

The biggest constraint will be time. We haven’t found any Travel Consortiums who offer tourism packages for the Wayne County area. Many people like point and click trip planning, when all the itinerary is taken care of WITH VIP services.

Even worse, we don’t have local Travel Specialists or Agents who focus on the region. Instead, they focus on Disney and Cruise ships. This is a huge market failure, because trip planners must take the time to plan their trip from scratch. We are missing out on lots of sales revenue. We at ASTC believe this is our biggest inhibitor of tourism growth in Central Appalachia.

Another constraint will be that some tourists from far and wide may not have a vehicle or even know how to drive a car to get around. They may want a shuttle, or a Transporter to help them get around. We’ve hunted a lot for these, but they are uncommon. Fortunately, these are easy start ups and you have many many avenues of approach to make contact.

Another constraint will be that some tourists who have never visited the region may want their own personal Guide to show them around and tell some great stories and connect them to some interesting folks. They may not speak English well. They may not be able to drive a car. If they are paying thousands of dollars (hint/hint) to tour Central Appalachia, then they are going to want VIP services to go along with that. Again, these are easy start ups, and the glue that connects Travel Agencies to Rural Appalachia. You’ve got to remember, Central Appalachia is exotic to 99.9% of the world. Play off the strengths of your region. Ashland/Huntington offers the city with lots of cushy things, but once you get into Lawrence and Wayne counties you will offer a rich cultural and rustic experience that some tourists have been waiting a lifetime to discover.

Another constraint will be that some tourists who are flying in or taking the train will want to rent gear upon arrival. Unfortunately we failed to find an outdoor outfitter that rents gear in Huntington. Renting gear will keep your overhead low and free up cash for other start-up expenses.

You might be able to work out a deal with the Herd at Marshall University as a “Marshall Associate”. They have a recreational rental program The new President of Marshall University is from Wayne County.

Where will your guests rest at night?

Huntington has a nice map to help you.

Boom! Lousia, Ky has a Best Western Plus for $83-110/night. .10 hours, or 3.8 miles away. This is an absolute gem for trip planners and Travel Specialists.

Also, in Louisa is the Super 8 by Wyndham. Downtown there is a Budget Inn Express.

We need these on the map!


Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration has a vision of tourists becoming stakeholders. The gateway is high quality tourism experiences, which is our mission.

Our stakeholder site has a growing list of resources to help you, but it's years from being complete.

We are an Entrepreneur Incubator. We offer free advice.

Check out our Entrepreneur Blogs. Most focus on Nature Based Tourism.

We recommend that you get involved with policy formation so that you can earn the trust of locals in the community. This trust will bring about solid employees, local tourists visitation, the potential to create high quality Apprenticeship and Internship programs. This will also attract nearby alumni. Please have a mission and vision and allow potential tourists to quickly understand your value exchange soon after visiting your portal. Transparency will help you motivate local tourists, and even global tourists to connect with your organization.

West Virginia

Advantage Valley WV (looks after several counties, but most importantly the town of Huntington, and Wayne, Lincoln, Cabell counties). Their staff is friendly and helpful. Marjorie Cooke is a great contact and is very motivated.

The Huntington Chamber of Commerce has all kinds of services. They even have a brand new Regional Director! Tricia Ball. Here is an article about her vision and goals.

Bill Currey of The Coal River Group is a great point of contact to learn about the rivers of the region. He is the Chairman of the West Virginia Flatwater Trails Commission.

The West Virginia Business Link is a great site and is run by Bill Woodrum, who is a helpful person.

What about Mingo and Logan County? Like Wayne County, they are with the Hatfield-McCoy Mountains tourism district.

Mingo is with the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce out of Williamson.

The Logan county Chamber appears to be separate.


This is some series collaboration here. The Visit Ashland website promotes Boyd County KY, Huntington, WV, and Ironton, OH. Wow!

The Big Sandy Area Development District looks after several counties to the south, but also Martin County, which touches Wayne County to the Southwest.

Lawrence County is large, and their county seat is on the Wayne county border, Louisa. They are an important stakeholder town.

SOAR: A regional nonpartisan nonprofit championing local projects, programs, and advocacy for the 54 ARC-mandated counties.


As of the Spring of 2022, we have not expanded our network into Ohio.

There are some Potential Cons with the Wayne County Area

1. Your biggest con is that you are connected to a lot of counties and 2 states. You will need to work harder on collaboration because states and regional chambers typically do not talk with other states. But every potential crisis is an opportunity. If you get in good with KY and OH, you can network with 3 states. Also, you have leverage because you can start or move your operation across the Big Sandy with ease.

2. Some local stakeholders are not a fan of tourism development because they believe coal is the only way to go for economic development. We call this the Coal Clause. However, it's not as bad as it was 20 years ago. We believe that local stakeholders in West Virginia are more open to non coal related economic development based upon the facts that show WV has been way more serious about tourism economic development over the last 25 years.

It's a buyers market in Wayne County, but some of your friends and peers will try and convince you to NOT invest in Wayne County and just leave. This fatalistic attitude can in some cases leave you with little support.

3. Some potential partners and investors will not see the potential with Wayne County. They just don’t understand that localities and economies go in cycles. Many places in Central Appalachia have already hit rock bottom and are turning a corner with revitalization. It’s not about salesmanship, it's about showing potential.

4. Flood damage could be your biggest liability if you have a base of operations. Do your research.

5. Find out how good your broadband internet will be before any big decisions. You could get the Starlink satellite dish as an alternative. You could allow locals free access.


We would love to do this for all 112 counties in our General Service Area, but time is the major constraint. However, it's doubtful that the vast majority can keep up with the potential of the Wayne County area.

Inded, a 5-9 day touring package could take place in this area and have a price of over $5,000 with ease. We are talking the best of both worlds here. Which is another great slogan.

You could play the Van-Halen song at your base of operations, because the Tri-State metro has a population of ~350,000; the avenue of approach is served up on a silver platter; and just minutes away you can offer a rustic and rural Central Appalachian experience.

“...a little heaven right here on earth.’’

Thanks for reading.

Please provide feedback to help us make this brief primer better.

Travis Stanley


Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration

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