HAZARD — Over the course of the past couple months, the Hazard Herald has reported on the Appalachian Horse Center’s search for the county it can call home. The Appalachian Horse Center is designed to represent a nine-county area in Southeastern Kentucky, and the center possesses major potential to generate tourism revenue for the community in which it is located. Perry County is part of the nine-county cluster the Appalachian Horse Center is striving to serve.
Officials with the Appalachian Horse Center organized meetings throughout the region to talk with Tourism, local government and the general public about reasons why their particular county would be best suited for the development of this unique and appealing project. On April 4, the Appalachian Horse Center posted the following announcement via Facebook.
“You’ve all been asking for a long time; where will the Appalachian Horse Center be located? We finally have an answer: the South Fork area of Breathitt County. We still need to discuss the details with the landowner and the county officials. But if that all goes well, we will move on to our next phase of development; getting buildings in place, pastures and fund-raising.”
Breathitt County’s success in this endeavor comes at a time when expanded tourism initiatives sit high on the list of priorities for the governments of communities that are desperately seeking economic stimulus during the current stifling of the coal industry. Last year’s SOAR Summit devoted an in-depth panel discussion to the benefits a properly structured tourism strategy can provide for districts that are desperately in need of revenue to replenish the funds that the depleting coal severance tax has eradicated.
Several nearby districts have stepped up to the challenge of developing a profitable tourism plan. Laurel County has marketed their bike trails to fitness enthusiasts across the country with overwhelming success. The motels in London are packed every spring during the popular Red Bud Ride. In Letcher County, the developing Pine Mountain Trail System is generating a lot of steam and gaining an abundance of support. Pike County is partnering with neighboring counties to form a tourism coalition.
Now, Breathitt County can join the club because the Appalachian Horse Center will cater to a trend that, thus far, has failed to go out of style with tourists. People around the world love horses, and when they think of horses, they think of Kentucky. This trend is no longer limited to Keeneland or Churchill Downs. Instead, it is stretching out of the Bluegrass and into Appalachia. Along with the brand new center that is slated to break ground in Breathitt County, Knott County also continues to host two wildly successful horse trail rides each year.
The 2016 legislative session in Frankfort has further illustrated Kentuckians’ compassion for the state’s equine population. House Resolution 101 passed through the House of Representatives on Feb. 18. This bill is crafted to help assure the well-being of feral or abandoned horses. Prior to the vote on Resolution 101, officials from the Appalachian Horse Center engaged legislators in Frankfort to advocate for the bill’s passage.
After an extensive campaign through the Coalfields Region to talk with local government leaders about each county’s capacity to sustain a tourist attracting facility, the Appalachian Horse Center has finally chosen Breathitt County as its future home. According to the Appalachian Horse Center’s Facebook timeline, the center will remain committed to serving the nine-county region as a whole. After construction of the building is complete, the Appalachian Horse Center hopes to host an open house gathering. Events such as a trail horse competition, a horse show and a community fair are also mentioned on the center’s timeline as potential ideas to attract tourists.
The future location of the Appalachian Horse Center has finally been determined. Many citizens in Perry County hope that they will soon have the pleasure of driving through Breathitt County on their way to see a mighty fine idea come to life. More information on the Appalachian Horse Center can be found on Facebook or by visiting their website, appalachianhorsecenter.org.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.