Group to nail down outdoor tourist economy

SHARON McBRAYER, Writer

Outdoor tourism is one thing that draws people to Burke County, and leaders here say it brings a lot of money to the area.

And they hope to see how great this is for the economic development of this country.

A group of leaders from the Burke Tourism Development Authority, NC Mountain Conservancy, Appalachian State University, Lake James State Park, Pisgah National Forest and the National Park Service, along with NC Representative Hugh Blackwell, gathered at the Morganton Community House on Monday. , on October 24 to discuss the “Building external communities” program.

Brad Speigel, Building Outdoor Communities program specialist, said they received a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to study how outdoor recreation contributes to economic development in 21 counties in western North Carolina. Over the next two years, the program will analyze the external economy and society as a whole, he said.

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The program began in Boone in September. Burke was one of 25 organizations participating in the kickoff, hoping to learn from each other and develop tools for outdoor recreation.

Speigel said Burke is in one of the accelerated counties, so they’re actually on a seven-month work cycle.

“Right now, we have seven months to really focus on specific projects in Burke County,” Speigel said.

Speigel said the work involves gathering, analyzing and storytelling to determine the economic impact for specific projects in Burke County.

Ed Phillips, executive director of the Burke Tourism Development Authority, said there is a task force put together in Burke County for the project.

He said the five-person task force will coordinate and collect information about users who come into Burke County and interact outside. He said there will be an economic impact tool that Appalachian State University and West Virginia University are working on together that will accurately measure the impact of outdoor recreation.

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He said they already have an inventory of 74 trails in Burke County, identified by trail name, length and difficulty.

“During the pandemic, the outdoors has become a place of solitude and safe relaxation and recreation,” Phillips said.

He said the data they’ve obtained so far tells them the Charlotte area is the county’s No. 1 market for Burke County, followed by the Greenville/Spartanburg, Raleigh/Durham and Winston-Salem/Greensboro markets. , but this city also sees it. people from Nashville, Tennessee and even Buncombe County.

Phillips said the task force is also working with a company in Utah that tracks people coming to Burke County, and it collects data on how much people spend and what area of ​​the county they visit.

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Phillips said they’re also conducting a gap analysis that looks at the current and future state of outdoor recreation in Burke County: where it is now, where it’s grown, and the gaps in getting where they are, and identifying factors and measures to address it. to reach where they want.

He said the task force will also work with Rutherford, McDowell, Wilkes and Mitchell counties and share with them the data they collect and get a regional perspective on outdoor recreation from each county.

Phillips said there will be a final report that will be released with strategic recommendations and ways to implement ideas for the future of the province. He said he hopes to have concrete information to share about the project by late spring or summer.

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