On Thursday, April 20th, the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia (ORCA) with ARC POWER grant partner agencies, including ACEnet, hosted an event at Burr Oak Lodge and Conference Center to engage with regional stakeholders. Over 50 people from 9 different counties were represented, including: Athens, Hocking, Perry, Morgan, Nobel, Vinton, Washington, Ross, and Highland counties.

ORCA, the lead on the 2021 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) POWER grant: Gateway Communities and Sustainable Recreation: An Asset Based Approach to Building  Resilient Communities and Transition Appalachian Communities, collected feedback on strategies to utilize collaborative and/or regional branding to support outdoor recreation and destination based economic diversification efforts in Southeast Ohio.

ORCA Executive Director, Jessie Powers

The POWER  project advances the economic impacts of the outdoor recreation economy and regional visitation to further diversify the region’s coal-based economy and had an initial focus on 10 SEOH counties: Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Morgan, Perry, Vinton, Washington, Monroe, Nobel, and Ross. Component projects of this grant provide support for collaborative and regional branding, and development of a Recreation Asset Assessment and Development Plan. POWER grant partners also provided business and internship opportunities for the larger region, beyond ORCA’s member communities in Athens county.

ORCA Executive Director, Jessie Powers presented on ORCA’s holistic model for outdoor recreation development, which focuses on collaboration and partnerships across governmental boundaries, integrates best practices of multiple disciplines, and strategically leverages unique outdoor recreation assets to catalyze economic growth. Powers highlighted the organization’s pilot project, the Baileys Trail System in Athens County, which, once completed, will be the longest connected mountain bike optimized trail system east of the Mississippi.

ACEnet Director of Programs, Leslie Schaller

ARC POWER partner, Leslie Schaller, Director of Programs at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), spoke further about the ARC POWER grant and the benefits of regional branding, and highlighted regional brand case studies including the PA WildsSouthwest Virginia, and Ohio’s Winding Road. Other ARC POWER partners include Rural ActionOhio’s Hill Country Heritage Area/Ohio’s Winding Road Brand and Network, The Buckeye Trail AssociationAthens County Convention and Visitors BureauAthens County Economic Development Council, and The Wayne National Forest.​

Brian Koscho, the creator of Invisible Ground, a multimedia place-based history storytelling app, currently in Athens County, spoke to the group about his efforts to use storytelling as a way to connect southeast Ohio communities and its people, places, and events to connect to bigger themes in the region and beyond. When users scan an Invisible Ground site marker, audio, augmented reality, visual elements, and storytelling brings historic places and events to life— such as the Berry Hotel on Court Street in Athens circa 1893 and 1951, and Theodore Roosevelt’s speech at the Athens County Courthouse from 1912.

As part of the ARC POWER grant, ORCA has ~$90,000 to support collaborative and/or regional branding linked to destination development, as a component of the project’s rural asset-based economic development and diversification goal. Executive Director of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Boone Troyer, spoke about the value a regional brand could have to market and promote the region, especially for visitors, who aren’t necessarily thinking in county specific terms when planning a trip or vacation.

ORCA gathered valuable feedback on needs and opportunities to support collaborative and regional branding and will follow up with stakeholder experts willing to participate and guide the use of the grant resources to achieve the goals of the Gateway Communities and Sustainable Recreation project.

Community Update by ORCA Communications & Philanthropy Director, Delia Palmisano

Photo Credit: Delia Palmisano