Grants to promote sustainable tourism, cultural heritage projects near Smokies up for grabs

Hank Hayes • May 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Growing tourism dollars is the goal behind a new grants competition announced Saturday for the “gateway communities” residing next to the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The $200,000 initiative, undertaken by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in partnership with the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, will allow groups to compete for grants to promote sustainable tourism and cultural heritage projects.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Rep. David Davis and ARC Federal Co-Chair Anne Pope touted the competition at a event held at the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center.

Pope, a Kingsport native, said the competition is part of ARC’s overall effort to advance asset-based economic development.

“We realize that the only way to help communities diversify their economic base is bringing small business and developing their assets,” she said. “The public lands are one of the biggest assets ... in Appalachian tourism (which) is a $29 billion business employing over 600,000 workers.”

Alexander, R-Tenn., suggested the initiative could have a big impact in places like Unicoi County, where the tax base is limited because the Cherokee National Forest takes up much of the county.

“Places like Erwin and Unicoi County need the additional tax dollars so they can support better services,” Alexander said. “The Appalachian Trail Conference has said it might make Erwin a gateway to the Appalachian Trail and that might bring in many people to spend money in Unicoi County.”

Gary Mabrey, president and CEO of the Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said a regional approach could be taken to compete for the funds. In addition to Unicoi, groups in Greene, Washington, Carter, Sullivan and Johnson counties are eligible to compete for the funds.

“With the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association, which deals with six of those counties would be the right catalyst to ... figure out a way to collaboratively do something leveraging off the existing programs and assets that we have in order to bring a few more dollars here to take a good program to another level or start a program and get it going,” Mabrey said.

The initiative defines gateway communities as towns and counties that are adjacent to the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Nonprofit organizations, governmental entities and public educational institutions located in a gateway town or county are eligible to apply. For-profit organizations are not eligible for this program, according to ARC.

ARC said examples of an eligible project or activity for a grant could include: biking, hiking, climbing and birding tours; establishing a local artisan guild to sell handcrafted products; producing a Web site with downloadable video and audio tours of popular attractions; developing a gas power generation system from a closed landfill; installing and promoting recycling centers; and upgrading downtown streets to make them more attractive.

Applications will be evaluated on several criteria, including: articulation of need, capacity to perform the work, level of community support, project sustainability, and project results.

The size of each grant is expected to range from $10,000 to $25,000, according to ARC. Applicants will be required to provide 20 percent of the total project cost, with either a cash or in-kind match.

For more information, contact Molly Theobald at ARC at (202) 884-7767 or send an e-mail to: mtheobald@arc.gov.

An application form and other details about the grants competition are available at ARC’s Web site at www.arc.gov. Applications are due by June 27, with winners to be announced later in the summer.

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