County tourism banking on elk
by Cris Ritchie
Welcome center, viewing stand in the works
Perry County's tourism is on the upswing with a planned welcome center and a wildlife viewing area, and the region's elk herd is at the center of official efforts to make tourism a viable block of the local economy.
Officials made an announcement last month concerning the planned use of the old state police barracks on North Main Street in Hazard as a welcome center and local office for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. A project in the lower end of the county is also set to allow the public to view the area's wildlife.
Doug Hensley, Perry County Tourism Co-coordinator, said a spot in Jewell Moutnain at Leatherwood had become a prime spot to view elk, but an area had yet to be set up and traffic had become a concern. As a result, a viewing stand has been constructed where people can safely sit and view wildlife without causing a safety hazard.
Hensley noted the viewing stand and the immediate area around it was a cooperative agreement between Ky. River Properties, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, Blue Diamond Coal, and Perry County Tourism. “We had about four or five entities work together to get that done, at basically no cost,” he said. “It is a real nice place to pull off now and see wildlife.”
The old state police barracks in Hazard will also serve as a welcome center for tourists and be a portal at which they will be able to find the best places in the county to visit. It will also house Perry County's first local Fish and Wildlife office.
While Hensley said the welcome center is still in the planning phase, he also noted it probably would not have been possible if not for the elk. Tourism officials throughout eastern Kentucky are relying on the region's wildlife, such as elk, to benefit the economy through tourism.
“The state police building could not have been possible without the elk,” Hensley commented. “We have the largest populatoin east of the Rocky Mountains.
“I hope this welcome center will give people an opportunity to see where to go and what to do, and when they come in to be able to enjoy what the county has to offer.”
But elk will not be the only attraction to draw visitors to Perry County, Hensley said. The Farmer's Market will continue next spring after a successful fall showing, and officials will continue to promote local events like the Black Gold Festival and the Battle of Leatherwood Reenactment.
“There are a lot of things going on, and tourism will be supportive of all of those things,” Hensley said.
In addition, the Hazard City Commision voted to adopt a resultion Monday night to implement a public relations campaign to promote Perry and surrounding counties as an area of interest for possible tourists. The campaign, according to the reslution, will include road signs at certain intersections on major highways leading to Perry County such as Interstate 64 and Mountain Parkway, directing visitors to the area.
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