Rich heritage. Nationally known breathtaking mountain vistas. Vibrant culture. Beautiful scenic landscapes filled with wildlife.
Letcher County boasts all of the above and then some.
The problem—similar to many other Southeastern Kentucky counties—is that while area leaders had big dreams on tourism marketing and promoting the county’s amenities and natural treasures, they lacked the necessary funding to make those dreams reality.
The Center for Rural Development is making a difference in rural communities across the region like Letcher County, which has received $18,800 in Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) funding support awarded by The Center during the last 12 months for the strategic planning of tourism initiatives, including a newly launched tourism-based Web site and promotional video.
The Center’s Developing and Implementing Community Strategies Program awarded the Letcher County Tourism Commission and Convention Bureau an $8,800 ARC mini-grant in February 2010 to begin developing the Web site and promotional video. This was followed in November by another grant totaling $10,000 to advance its marketing plans with a “mobile phone tour,” which will utilize smartphones to guide visitors through the county’s top destinations.
Since 2005, The Center, a nonprofit organization based in Somerset, Ky., has awarded a total of $264,000 in federal ARC mini-grant funding to 23 communities and organizations across Southern and Eastern Kentucky to advance strategic planning efforts in the region.
The recent efforts mark the first time Letcher County has been able to put together a comprehensive marketing plan and promotional campaign to give tourists a glimpse at what they can expect to see and do there, according to Dr. David Narramore, chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission and Convention Bureau.
“Tourism is a vital part of the local economy and will be for the future economic development of Letcher County,” Narramore said. “Without the ARC funding support from The Center for Rural Development, which has served as a catalyst to get the tourism industry in Letcher County started, we would not have been able to proceed with our plans and implement the next step in the project.”
The idea for the Web site—http://www.tourpinemtn.com/site—and promotional video grew out of a community assessment study which identified the need for the county to develop a sustainable economy through tourism.
“As a result of that study, we focused on certain key aspects for promotions and marketing that we wanted to do in Letcher County,” Narramore said. “Some of the scenic attractions in Letcher County—including Bad Branch Falls, Little Shepherd Trail, and Pine Mountain Trail—we haven’t been able to describe adequately with words. Our promotional video, which includes 11 30-second segments, has been able to better promote the region than any other exposure we have had before.”
The five-and-a-half minute video, produced by professional filmmakers at Letcher County’s own Appalshop and videography consultant Suzan Maddin, includes a series of quick segments on the county’s unique cultural heritage from the beauty of Pine Mountain—a majestic mountain range extending along the county’s line from the northeast to the southwest—and other tourist attractions to its large community of artisans and crafters.
“We have identified the best things we have to offer in our promotional video,” Narramore said. “From there, we want to promote it to the world so everyone can see the natural beauty of Letcher County.”
Narramore said the new Web site is the primary vehicle through which the video is being shared with the world. Further, Narramore said he anticipates the video to generate a 25-percent increase in tourism simply because it represents the county’s first-ever major public marketing push.
As for next steps, Narramore said the Letcher County Tourism Commission and Convention Bureau will be launching a series of smartphone tours in and around Letcher County within the next six months.
The marketing and promotional campaign is critical to the county’s overall efforts to grow the local economy through tourism, said Letcher Judge-Executive Jim Ward.
“Tourism is very important to us, and we are trying to do our best to promote our county, and the region, to do whatever it takes to bring people in to see what we have to offer in Letcher County,” Ward said. “We thank The Center for Rural Development and ARC for helping us get these projects going, which are promoting tourism in Letcher County and throughout Southeastern Kentucky.”