Many VMS communities and other localities that DHCD partners with, like Damascus, recognize the importance of connecting downtowns to the surrounding outdoor recreation assets. We asked guest blogger Nick Proctor, community development and outdoor recreation specialist for the Friends of Southwest Virginia, to share how it is working in one small community in Southwest Virginia.
Muddy hiking boots, a floating kayak or an eco-tour along hiking trails are new forms of currency in Appalachia. In 2012, outdoor-goers spent nearly $650 billion nationally on outdoor recreational activities, gear and accommodations. From that amount, federal, state and local entities collected $80 billion in taxes. Appalachia’s outdoor industry is a strong economic resource to be tapped in Southwest Virginia. Many communities throughout Southwest Virginia, such as Damascus, have realized the positive impacts that outdoor recreation and tourism can have on downtown revitalization strategies within the region. With a robust network of restaurants, businesses and outfitters to support an outdoor-oriented quality of life, Damascus is ready to tackle its next challenge, the seasonal characteristics of the outdoor recreation economy, that currently stifles future growth of the town.
Damascus approaches this challenge through a partnership with Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and its planning grant and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs. Over the course of the coming months, the town will work with design and marketing professionals to create strategies that position the town as a year-round destination for outdoor experiences, as well as economic prosperity. Market analysis studies will highlight new target markets to expand Damascus’ economic footprint. Physical improvement plans will bring new breath to the town, aligning outdoor recreation opportunities that surround the town with existing social and commerce hubs. Hopeful physical investments include an Appalachian Trail Destination Center, which would be owned by the town and operated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in partnership with the Wilderness Society. This center would act as a year-round professional training center with visitor center services for both hikers and the general public. The center would bring awareness, not only to the world-renowned Appalachian Trail, but also professional development opportunities based on the trails and outdoor culture that is so important to this mountain community. Finally, aesthetic improvements will bring a cohesive feel and enhance the connectivity between various destinations throughout the town. All of these products leverage existing accomplishments to enhance the quality of life and economic independence of Damascus through natural and cultural assets, a true creative economy.
Damascus is a small town (population approximately 800) in Washington County in Southwest Virginia. As part of the planning grant, the town is currently working on becoming a Commercial District Affiliate with DHCD’s Virginia Main Street program. Damascus is home to Trail Days and known as Trail Town, USA.