Rural communities across the U.S. are looking to their natural assets to unlock new economic development strategies, all tied to building a strong "outdoor economy." A recent Salvation South podcast episode, produced by Georgia Public Broadcasting, highlights one example from Old Fort, North Carolina, a town of 800 people located just 30 minutes east of the hip, outdoor recreation-haven, Asheville.
Old Fort is taking advantage of its proximity to the Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountain Range to inspire new activity around building trails, connecting them to nearby state and national park amenities, supporting new businesses that serve trail users and outdoor enthusiasts, and establishing affordable housing to ensure the town's long-time residents will be able to enjoy this new access to the great outdoors.
What makes the Old Fort's story stand out is the intentional work the community is doing to ensure decisions about the town's outdoor economy's development are based in diversity and inclusion, with several historically African American communities around Old Fort leading and integrally involved in this work. “Because if we don’t think about how we can bring diversity and equity into everything we do, we’ll be just like those other mountain towns," explained Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, CEO of Eagle Market Streets Development Corp., a local nonprofit focused on creating economic equity.
At Fourth Economy, we're hearing from communities around the country that are interested in creating robust outdoor-recreation economies. They recognize the potential of providing local quality of life benefits to residents, attracting new remote-working talent seeking outdoor adventure, and spurring new tourism and business-attraction opportunities. Places like Old Fort that are embedding equity, including workforce training, incorporating support for new businesses, and broadly taking ownership of their community's vision for the future will have a leg-up in this race to become the next outdoor destination.
To learn more about how we approach this work with communities that are exploring building their outdoor economies, view our recent work with two York County, Pennsylvania organizations to assess opportunities for sustainable public funding to support the county's outdoor and cultural amenities, or with the GAP Conservancy to analyze the $121 million in economic impact generated by the Great Allegheny Passage, the celebrated 150-mile multiuse trail that connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland.