The Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia was awarded $1.5 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission to invest in natural and cultural assets across seven southeast Ohio counties. The goal of the grant would be to ultimately foster small business expansion as well as jobs creation and retention in order to build local wealth and prosperity.

ORCA, a council of governments, is a centralized group created to serve local governments and private investors to develop the region with outdoor recreation opportunities. Key partners include Wayne National Forest, Buckeye Trail Association, ACEnet, Ohio’s Winding Road, Rural Action, Athens County Economic Development Council, and the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Building on the work of the 2019 POWER grant “Asset Based Entrepreneurship: Trails, Town and Tourism in the Appalachian Ohio Economy,” the 2021 “Gateway Communities and Sustainable Recreation” project scope includes:

  • seven county recreation asset assessment
  • seven county Ohio’s Winding Road destination signage
  • Ohio recreation economy conference
  • Regional entrepreneur support
  • Regional internships in seven counties
  • Wayne National Forest trail enhancements
  • Buckeye Trail Association Trail Town program expansion
  • Ohio’s Winding Road regional marketing development
  • Athens County Economic Development Council Opportunity Zone Prospectus
  • Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing support
  • Athens Bicycle Club volunteer maintenance and youth engagement
  • Summer youth employment opportunities with trail systems

This award is part of a $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in the coal industry. Additional support for Gateway Communities and Sustainable Recreation is provided by Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Mineral Resources Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization Program, and the Just Transition Fund.

“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia. That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Many of the projects we announced today will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”

While many Appalachian Ohioans may not remember the heyday of the coal economy, the industry’s decline has left much of the Appalachian Ohio Region with economies largely dependent on one or a few employers.

“This ARC POWER Award provides critical funding to expand and implement our sustainable economic diversification strategy,” said Jessie Powers,ORCA executive director. “Our holistic development work conducted alongside our partners and regional stakeholders will enhance Appalachian Ohioans’ access to economic, social, and healthy lifestyle opportunities.”

As the great-granddaughter of a Chauncey coal miner, Powers’ has a personal connection the the work she does reimagining and repurposing former coal lands.

Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested more than $284 million in 320 projects across 353 coal-impacted counties. The $46.4 million awarded today is projected to create/retain over 9,306 jobs, attract nearly $525 million in leveraged private investments, and be matched by $59.2 million in additional public and private funds across the Region.

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