PIKEVILLE – Can Eastern Kentucky capitalize on its distinct culture to attract more tourists and diversify its economy? Yes, if people work together across county lines, experts agreed at the “Capitalizing on Culture” conference in Pikeville Aug. 1-2.
“In order for us to have that synergy of tourism that’s satisfying to tourism and people, we have to partner,” Niki Nicholas, superintendent of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in McCreary County, said in an interview on the first day of conference, which attracted about 110 people to the East Kentucky Exposition Center.
Jim Mallory, vice chairman of the Lewis and Clark Trust, which wants to expand the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, said during a first-day panel discussion that people have to communicate for an area’s tourism to boom. “I think tourism is national or international,” he said. “You need to trade, you need to share info across counties and regions.”
When it comes to marketing tourism, identity is an important issue, said Don Wollenhaupt, chief of interpretation and education for the National Park Service in the Southeast, said in the conference’s keynote address.
“We have identity issues sometimes,” he said. “Many people did not know the Statue of Liberty is a part of the National Park System.”
Wallenhaupt said the Park Service tries to increase visitors’ understanding and appreciation of the significance of a park’s resources, and the histories of land and people are part of that education, so it’s important for people in nearby communities to be connected with parks and recreational areas. He suggested organizations talk to park managers and staff to discuss innovative ways to collaborate.
Cooperating across county lines is important because seemingly small, disconnected elements of history and culture can be combined for a rich experience for visitors, said Wayna Adams, archaeologist and heritage program manager for the Daniel Boone National Forest.
“Sometimes they miss amazing opportunities to have a string-of-pearls of experience,” Adams said during a panel discussion, adding that the goal should be for people to have “an amazing experience itinerary.”
Tressa Brown, who coordinates Native and African American heritage for the Kentucky Heritage Council, said during the panel, “We can’t ignore our deep history here; it impacts all of us.” She added, “I often get calls from people wanting to tap into their family heritage. Heritage tourism with regards to genealogy and family history is huge.”
Overall, the panelists described practical marketing strategies for communities such as starting with investing in a new roof on a historic building, building strong volunteer teams and telling stories.
The second panel discussion, “Nonprofit Preservation Advocacy,” was aimed at providing ideas and resources for establishing a non-profit advocacy group.
“Non-profit advocacy engages in community problems,” said Betsy Hatfield, executive director of Preservation Kentucky. “It does not have to be confrontation to get things done and it’s also a great way to form alliances and collaborations.”
Hatfield asked the audience how her organization could help their individual nonprofits.
One idea was a better partnership between Pikeville University and other organizations through internships, for example; another was to help nonprofits find ways to work together for collective marketing, not just individual marketing.
Judi Patton of Pikeville, first lady of Kentucky from 1995 to 2003, shared her perception of Eastern Kentucky.
“We’re all proud of our communities,” Patton said. “Yes, we have lost our brightest and our best because of lack of opportunities. Our children want to stay here, they love this land, they love the people, and we will have opportunity to grow.”
Patton said the region has come a long way and that with the help of organizations like Preservation Kentucky, the area will have a lot to offer.
The conference was sponsored by the heritage council and its State Historic Preservation Office, the Shaping our Appalachian Region initiative and Community Trust Bancorp Inc. A video broadcast of a portion of day two of the conference will be available on the website http://preservationkentucky.org.