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Voices of Change

Giving Voice to Local Tourism Leaders

Using the National Rural Tourism Development Project as a model, with funding provided by a West Virginia University Faculty Senate Research Grant, case studies of tourism development in West Virginia were developed.

The resulting stories feature “Voices of Change” from tourism leaders in West Virginia discussing the successes and challenges of tourism development in each rural community.

Core Values for Community-Based Tourism

Successful community tourism development is built on communication, partnerships, a community vision, and a long-term commitment to bring that vision to fruition. It embraces five core values:

  1. Maintain authenticity and a sense of place
  2. Provide a quality experience
  3. Diversify the economy
  4. Transform obstacles into opportunities
  5. Share the benefits and local control

Case Study Goals

The development of tourism case studies of three West Virginia communities is intended to:

  1. Identify opportunities and challenges communities face in developing tourism
  2. Identify important community and tourism development values to guide tourism development
  3. Inspire other communities
  4. Provide guidance on how to develop and maintain a quality community tourism industry
  5. Empower community leaders to implement an effective tourism development program


Today, more communities seek to link strategic tourism planning with sustainable development. To address these needs, the National Rural Tourism Development Project (RTDP) was designed by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center to help communities develop and expand their tourism industries.

Many communities in West Virginia have transitioned to service-based economies that depend on tourism. While economic growth is desirable, rapid and unplanned tourism growth can generate unintended consequences including congestion, unrealized economic benefit and a loss of regional character.

Tourism leaders in Elkins, Berkeley Springs and Fayetteville, West Virginia were interviewed to better understand how they managed tourism growth and successfully positioned themselves as destinations built on outdoor recreation and Appalachia’s unique history and traditional culture.

This project was designed to highlight successful tourism development strategies, educate West Virginia and Appalachian community leaders and help communities guide tourism growth in ways that both maximize its economic potential and preserve regional character.

Follow Along Guide

Communities featured have experienced the benefits and challenges of implementing the five core values and developing community-based tourism economies. As you experience each community’s story, think about these four questions:

  1. What was accomplished?
  2. How did they do it?
  3. Who was involved?
  4. What opportunities and challenges are they facing?

Tucker County, West Virginia

Tucker County is a gateway to the Monongahela National Forest. The communities of Thomas and Davis are situated in close proximity to parks, ski resorts, and recreational assets. The county’s economy boomed along with most of the state in the late 1800's and early 1900's fueled by the coal and timber industries attracting a population of close to 20,000 residents. These resources were largely exhausted by the mid-1950's. The industries were forced to leave, taking with them the jobs that attracted the residents, causing the population to drop precipitously. Today, due to more sustainable land management practices, Tucker County is a four-season tourism destination. Visitor attractions include outdoor recreation on federal and state lands (Monongahela National Forest, Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls State Parks, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and Dolly Sods Wilderness Area); downhill and cross country skiing; shopping and entertainment in the communities of Thomas, Davis, and Parsons; and a rich heritage of coal mining and timbering. Blackwater Falls State Park is the most visited state park in West Virginia. After many years of planning and construction, Corridor H was recently completed providing direct highway access from Washington D.C. to Davis, W.Va., with a driving time of ~ 3 hrs.

Elkins, West Virginia

Elkins serves as another gateway to the, nearly, one-million acre Monongahela National Forest. Elkins is a charming community offering residents and visitors a unique opportunity to experience a wealth of outdoor recreation activities, as well as a diversity of arts, entertainment, and heritage attractions. Downtown Elkins is home to a number of unique shops, diverse dining, arts and theater. Davis and Elkins College provides a cultural backdrop and is the home to the Augusta Heritage Center. The Mountain State Forest Festival has been held in early October every year since 1934.

Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

Berkeley Springs thrives as a popular vacation and second home community with a 21st century reputation for being cool and quirky. At the community’s heart is Berkeley Springs State Park – four acres of village green where the springs are freely open for splashing and the water for drinking 24/7. It is the scene for popular events from the annual Apple Butter Festival to a summer concert series. The most recent renaissance in Berkeley Springs was sparked by the late 20th century addition of arts to community culture. Spas, fine dining and distinctive shops grew along with that new element. A close collaboration between the arts and tourism communities fanned the spark into economic success.

Fayetteville, West Virginia

The New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977. With a 1,700 foot arch, the New River Gorge Bridge was for many years the world's longest steel single-span arch bridge. Today the bridge is crossed by an average of 16,000 vehicles per day. Coinciding with the completion of the bridge was the establishment of the New River Gorge National River as a unit to the National Park System in 1978.

The Lower Gorge of the New River is a premier whitewater rafting location with imposing rapids ranging in difficulty from Class III to Class V. The Gorge’s sandstone cliffs began attracting rock climbers in the 1980’s becoming one of the east coast’s premier climbing destinations. Today, Fayetteville is a popular outdoor adventure destination. Selected by Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel as one of America’s Top 10 Coolest Small towns, the community is a hub of eclectic shops, diverse dining options, and a mixture in culture from locals to tourists.

If you have community-based tourism research, training, and technical assistance needs, the WVU Extension Service can help.

Contact Doug Arbogast, our Tourism Specialist to discuss needs, availability and costs.