by KATRINA HUDSON
For the past few years much has been said about the prospect of tourism in Eastern Kentucky. Harlan County, for now, has jumped way ahead of the curve with their system of off road trails, and reports out of that county say the off roaders have resulted in a spike to their local economy.
State Senator Daniel Mongiardo told students at Leatherwood Elementary last week that he will be working to bring the same sort of trail system to Perry County. And why not?
Off roading is a very popular past time here in the mountains and across the country. Every Eastern Kentucky county should be looking to capitalize on these trail systems. For one thing, the trails are already in place in every county in the region due to local off roaders. There is no reason why we should not look into exploiting these trails to benefit our local economy.
And what is the end result of bringing in people from the across the country like Harlan County has done? More jobs. Plain and simple. Just look at the Pigeon Forge area in Tennessee. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to that region of Tennessee every year and spend their money, and as a result more businesses have sprung up and jobs have been created on every level from the minimum wage jobs to state level jobs.
What would happen if Perry County were to install an off road trail system like in Harlan County? Perhaps the same thing that is happening in other areas of the country where off road enthusiasts have found out there are mountains to be conquered.
Other counties, such as Knott, are currently looking into these trails and what economic benefit they bring with them. It behooves all Eastern Kentucky counties to connect on this one issue, and perhaps bring a network of trails spanning the region. Just imaging what would happen if Knott, Perry, Letcher, Harlan, and Leslie Counties joined together to form a super network of trails that could be utilized year round. We already have the trails, it's only a matter of convincing land owners it's a good idea, but that could be the major obstacle local leaders would have to face.
Land owners would have to agree to allow hundreds or thousands of strangers on their land daily. That's, perhaps, a prospect many land owners would not too comfortable with. In addition, they would no doubt (and who could blame them?) want the county to absolve any fault with possible injuries that could occur while on their land. Procuring land for a system of off road trails can be tricky business, but it would be well worth it in the end. That much we see from our neighbors to the south in Harlan County.
And once a system of trails is set up in our area, due to traffic flow other businesses would want to set up shop. We all hear how many restaurants do not want to come to Hazard because of the traffic flow (perhaps they don't take into account that Hazard does not only serve Perry County but also parts of Knott, Leslie, Letcher and Breathitt as well), but if thousands of people come to the area from outside the region, that issue would be a moot point. The area would need more hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, etc.
Local officials in Eastern Kentucky have been promoting their respective counties for tourism purposes. Perry County already has much to offer people from the beautiful scenery to diverse wildlife, but even that needs supplements to bring people here, and off roading seems to the best option for the region at this time.
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