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Rural Development Process

For recreational economies

The Monongahela National Forest, in partnership with West Virginia University and USDA Rural Development, is bringing diverse stakeholders together to create a shared recreation vision for the region.
people in a meeting
  • Establishing a Shared Vision for Change Our vision is to help community stakeholders invest in a shared recreation resource to generate positive outcomes for the health and vitality of this region.
map of mon forest area
  • Mapping the Landscape Analysis of baseline data to identify key issues and gaps, through completition of a community assesment report and recreation economies asset map.
colorful bar graph
  • Establishing Shared Metrics Identifying indicators applicable to recreation economies, measuring performance indicators, and sharing an approach to sucess.
mon forest bear logo
  • Regional Branding & Identity A regional identity system and style guide were developed that allow residents an opportunity to be part of the forest story.
artist rendering of urban planning
  • Business and Entrepreneurial Development The Mon Forest Business Initiative offers business advice and funding assistance for professional services to any businesses located within the 10 counties of the MNF.
group of mountain bikes
people listening to a presentation
  • What's Next Looking to the future: defining goals, strategy, and an action plan

Establishing a Shared Vision for Change

The complex nature of most social problems belies the idea that any single program or organization, however well managed and funded, can singlehandedly create lasting large-scale change.  Collective impact is generated by collaborative efforts that have achieved substantial impact on large scale social problems. This project has utilized principles found in  Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work, as published by the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

The Monongahela National Forest (MNF) in partnership with West Virginia University, and USDA Rural Development began bringing diverse stakeholders together in 2017 to create a shared recreation vision for each county and the greater region surrounding the MNF. Creating this dialogue with business owners and community leaders is important in understanding how we can move forward together to make full use of forest and community assets to attract and create a vibrant community experience for local residents and visitors. Producing a local climate where communities can rally around the recreational and cultural assets of the MNF will facilitate rural prosperity and economic development. 

Monongahela National Forest Recreation Economies Steering Committee members:
 Doug Arbogast West Virginia University Extension Service Rural Tourism Specialist
 Troy Waskey USFS District Ranger, Cheat-Potomac Ranger District
 Cindy Sandeno  USFS District Ranger, Marlinton Ranger District
 Lisa Sharp USDA Rural Development Director of Business & Cooperative Programs & Rural Development Coordinator
 Emily Wilson-Hauger
Woodlands Development Group
 Talia Schwelling 
USFS Resource Assistant 
 Clinton Gabbert 
USFS Resource Assistant 
 Megan Dister 
USFS Americorps 

The MNF Recreation Economies steering committee seeks to cultivate relations across lands and forest gateway communities that will enhance the economy and quality of life for residents and visitors while sustaining the quality of the environment and society.  Having the resources, infrastructure, and the energy of local community groups will allow for loftier goals to be actively pursued. Creating partnerships and a culture of chasing goals as a community will open these towns to more resources and greater success. On May 2, 2017 a small gathering of community leaders, business owners, and non-profit partner organization representatives met to begin this discussion in the town of Davis.  Subsequent meetings were convened in Marlinton, Elkins, Richwood, Franklin, and Cowen.  The outcomes of these meetings helped to shape a recreation vision to help guide the project. 

Our vision is to help community stakeholders invest in a shared recreation resource to generate positive and tangible outcomes for the social, ecological, and economic health and vitality of this region. 

We will pursue this vision together with our partners through three key objectives:
  1. Provide a Gateway for Escape, Exploration, and Adventure in Diverse Landscapes.
  2. Build Sustainable Recreation Opportunities through Community Engagement.
  3. Foster a Recreation Economy with Direct and Indirect Benefits for the Local Community.

To pursue this vision, recreation economy stakeholder teams were established in 10 Mon Forest Towns: Thomas, Davis, Parsons, Elkins, Petersburg, Franklin, Cowen, Richwood, Marlinton, White Sulphur Springs.  In 2017 and 2018, these teams actively participated in visioning, planning, and branding meetings.  On June 13, 2019, 85 stakeholders from throughout the forest met to exchange ideas and promote common goals at the Mon Forest Towns Summit. Representatives from several of the towns gave presentations highlighting their unique viewpoints.  Five broad goals for developing recreation economies in the MNF were established. 

See town presentations from the summit

Five Pillars for Developing Recreation Economies:
 Community Health and Wellness
 Business and Entrepreneurial Development
 Regional Branding and Marketing
 Sustainable Trail and Recreation Development
 Rural Workforce Development 

Creating the Backbone Organization

A formal partnership agreement crafted by the steering committee was introduced at the Summit.  The purpose of the partnership is to serve as a catalyst and forum for the development and delivery of an integrated regional recreation partnership.  The partnership agreement includes operational guidelines that cover how the partnership conducts business and interacts with the steering committee, town representatives, partnership organizations, and how the partnership can grow to include new members.

Following the Mon Forest Towns Summit, current Forest Supervisor Shawn Cochran requested that the steering committee members attend town council meetings to talk about the Mon Forest Towns partnership and ask the councils to designate an official partnership representative for each town. The list of town reps is below:

Thomas – Erika Smith, Treasurer
Davis – Andy Snyder
Parsons – Dorothy Judy
Elkins – Taira Landavere
Franklin – Ciara Lambert
Petersburg – Bob McCalley
Marlinton – Sam Felton, Chair
White Sulphur Springs – Bruce Bowling, Vice Chair
Cowen – Kent Walker
Richwood – Nicole Dudley, Secretary   

The Mon Forest Towns partnership meets quarterly with the steering committee to coordinate and implement MFT activities.

Mapping the Landscape and Analyzing Baseline Data to Identify Key Issues and Gaps

Community Assessments

The WVU Rural Tourism Specialist developed a recreation economies gateway community assessment form. The FS Resource Assistants met with local stakeholders to conduct gateway community assessments in order to identify each community’s strengths and weaknesses related to recreation economies. Assessment categories included: trail to town connection, safety, parking, bike parking, signage, business/services, marketing/promotion, general impressions, streetscape, storefronts, amenities, character, trailheads and trail access among other items. A report highlighting common strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities was published and presented to the communities.

Download the Gateway Community Assessment Report

MNF Recreation Economies Asset Map & Website

With funding support from the Forest Service and Woodlands Development Group, Kofi Opoku (WVU Graphic Design), Jackie Strager (WVU GIS Specialist), and Robin Bruns (local GIS specialist) were hired to begin developing a Mon Forest Tow ns asset map and website.  

Information has been collected from local partners on recreation resources and supporting services and amenities to develop a recreation economies asset map using ARC GIS online. An interactive website that will integrate the asset map and allow the public to identify and locate recreation and community assets is being designed.  CVB representatives have been consulted on the map and website design and have provided valuable input in the look and feel of the site, target markets, and desired outcomes.  The first stage is nearing completion.  During the second phase the CVB’s will be consulted to provide text, and photos for the website and verify the data in the asset map.  The website should go live in summer 2020.  

See the Website Prototype

Discovery Junction Public Space Design

Peter Butler, Director of the School of Design and Community Development at WVU brought landscape architecture students to Marlinton to design the Discovery Junction in the Opera House lot and gather input from local residents on opportunities to design community improvements throughout the town. An $86,000 Land and Water Conservation Grant was awarded to support the development of Discovery Junction. Additional sponsorship funds have also been secured to complete the development of the site.  Community design projects have also been completed in Richwood and White Sulphur Springs. Community residents from White Sulphur Springs and Richwood participated in Interactive Design and Planning Activities with students and faculty from West Virginia University’s Landscape Architecture Program in the School of Design and Community Development. Students will be creating community and site scale plans for these communities.

Establishing Shared Metrics 

Economic Impact Analysis

Gateway communities lack research-based performance indicators to measure and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and clearly identify where additional resources are needed to enhance the recreation economy. Doug Arbogast, WVU Extension Rural Tourism Specialist, Daniel Eades, WVU Extension Rural Economist, and Dr. Jinyang Deng, WVU Rec, Parks, and Tourism Resources Program Professor collaborated the USFS Resource Assistants and community stakeholders to identify the indicators applicable to recreation economies and develop an integrated process for measuring and evaluating these performance indicators and sharing the impacts and best practice examples. Data was collected from businesses in Tucker and Pocahontas Counties and from visitors at several events.  In addition, secondary data was analyzed.  A report was presented to the communities in 2019 and a process is being established to continue to collect data in order to determine trends over time.  

Download the Economic and Quality of Life Indicators Report

Download the Economic Impacts of Mountain Biking Report

Regional Branding and Marketing

Creating a Regional Identity

A branding of the symbiotic relationship of these communities with the Forest could help continue the benefits of working together that could grow the economies of the towns and promote environmentally responsible travel as well as sustainable planning.Working with community and Forest Service, a brand was co-designed that residents could see as opportunities to be part of the forest story. 

Such a system will allow for cooperation among communities with a vision of offering a week of experiences for visitors that allow for towns who identify with nearby attractions such as the Cass Railroad or Seneca Rocks to be recognized as unique within a trail of linked opportunities. 

10 meetings were facilitated by WVU Graphic Design and Rural Tourism Specialist in each MNF gateway community in 2018 to gather local stakeholder input into the process and co-design a regional identity. Local stakeholders were guided through the social design process and asked to help design an identity that will unite the gateway communities and also promote the unique aspects of each town. An identity system and style guide were finalized to present to the communities in early 2019. 

Funding has been secured to purchase a welcome/gateway sign for each of the current participating Mon Forest Towns. We hope to have the signs installed shortly after each town signs the partnership agreement. Stay tuned for updates. In addition, a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation provides funding for a signage plan and mini-grants to support priority signage projects.

View the Mon Forest Towns Style Guide 

Business and Entrepreneurial Development

The Mon Forest Business Initiative  

With funding support from an ARC/EDA/Benedum grant, the Woodlands Development Group and Natural Capital Investment Fund, Mon Forest Business Initiative offers business advice and funding assistance for professional services to any businesses located within the 10 counties of the Monongahela National Forest region of West Virginia.  Below is a brief summary of program accomplishments to date:

  • Businesses assisted in the last year – 48 (advisors one-on-one assistance, third-party TA assistance, and group trainings)
  • Communities served – 21 (Beverly, Canaan, Cassity, Circleville, Davis, Duo, Durbin, Elkins, Franklin, Lewisburg, Mt. Storm, Montrose, Parsons, Petersburg, Philippi, Richwood, Ronceverte, Thomas, Valley Bend, Webster Springs, White Sulphur Springs)
  • Jobs created – 8.5
  • Jobs retained – 27
  • Loans approved - $983,500 (7 closed totaling $599,500, 3 in underwriting)

Interpretive Guide Training   

With funding support from the USFS Tucker Community Foundation agreement 10 Canaan Valley Master Naturalists were able to attend a National Association of Interpretation Certified Interpretive Guide Training offered by WVU’s Rural Tourism Specialist and become Certified Interpretive Guides.  The interpretive programs they developed were offered at Canaan Valley State Park in the spring, summer, and fall of 2018.  A 2019 Flex-e-Grant from the West Virginia Development Office will provide funding for 15 additional guides from the MNF to become Certified Interpretive Guides.  The four-day Certified Interpretive Guide Training is being offered to provide a certification in interpretation through the National Association of Interpretation.  The NAI CIG training and certification is being recognized as the standard for interpretive guides across the country and internationally. 

Recreation Infrastructure Development

Snowshoe-Highlands Ride Center 

A partnership was established with Snowshoe, Pocahontas County CVB, USFS, Poca Trails, WVU, IMBA, Town of Marlinton, Pocahontas County Commission, Greenbank NRAO, State Parks and Forests, and surrounding communities.  Nine meetings were convened in 2018 to develop the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center and apply for Ride Center evaluation and certification with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA).  The vision is to become the hub of a thriving mountain biking community by making Pocahontas County, WV and the surrounding region a marquee biking destination.  Project partners collaborated in 2018 to conduct a comprehensive inventory of mountain bike trails and classify them according to difficulty level and develop a database and ARC GIS online map which includes trails, other recreation resources, and supporting services and amenities.  

This information was then entered into the IMBA Ride Center application and organized according to their application criteria and submitted to IMBA in July, 2018.  IMBA conducted a comprehensive Ride Center assessment in the spring of 2019 and announced in early August 2019 that the newest recipient of their IMBA Ride Center™ designation is the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center located in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. 

The Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center was awarded bronze designation by IMBA, meaning that the area meets specific trail, services and mountain biking experience criteria that elevates the overall mountain biking experience above the average destination and offers a variety of singletrack riding for all levels of riding abilities. According to the Ride Center assessment report, IMBA recognized that a strong coalition of stakeholders, including commercial operations (Snowshoe Resort), local advocates (Pocahontas Trails), and land managers (United States Forest Service) is working towards improving the quality and quantity of trails in the region.  According Dave Wiens, IMBA Executive Director, “It is our pleasure to welcome Snowshoe Highlands as IMBA’s newest Ride Center, and first Ride Center in West Virginia. The IMBA Ride Center designation solidifies the enthusiasm for mountain biking in Snowshoe Highlands and recognizes it as one of today's exceptional mountain bike destinations,”  More information can be found at IMBA's website.   

IMBA Trail Solutions 

The 2020 Benedum Grant provides funding for International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Trail Solutions to work with the Mon Forest Towns Steering Committee, Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center working group, and the Town of Marlinton to develop a detailed plan for purpose built mountain bike trails that can diversify the economy of Pocahontas County, WV, act as catalyst for grant submissions related to trail funding opportunities (i.e. Recreational Trails Program (RTP) Grants), and serve as the basis for the trail design-build scope of work which in turn would provide job training and youth engagement opportunities to support the development of resilient communities and a diversified economy.

The proposed project area is on a section of MNF land near the town of Marlinton in the Marlinton/White Sulphur Ranger District.  A map of the Forest Service’s property that has been recommended for mountain bike trail development is included in the appendix. This project would provide technical assistance from IMBA Trail Solutions who has extensive experience working on large-scale projects with multiple stakeholders including the USDA Forest Service.  The plan would focus on developing stacked loop purpose-built mountain bike trails.

What's Next 

Performance Agenda, Signage Plan, Website, Trail Planning Grant

In 2020 a Performance Agenda will be developed for Mon Forest Towns which includes a shared vision for tourism and goals, objectives, and action strategies with listed responsible parties as well as the development of a mini-grant program, assistance program for project partners, and identification of needed additional resources. In addition to the development of the Performance Agenda, funding was received through a grant from the Benedum Foundation to incorporate the Mon Forest Towns identity system into a regional signage plan, finish the Mon Forest Towns website and regional asset map, and conduct trail planning in partnership with the International Mountain Biking Association to connect communities to trails and capture economic opportunities for mountain bike trail development.

website screenshot

WVU Masters of Public Administration Students Capstone Project

Three WVU Master of Public Administration students in a fall 2019 capstone seminar course conducted research on model gateway communities in support of strategic planning in Mon Forest Towns under the direction of Dr. Chris Plein with support from Doug Arbogast. This capstone project includes a comparative analysis with other gateway communities across the country and communication with each of the town reps. to further discuss goals for the partnership, current needs, and priority projects.

USFS Resource Assistants 

Through a partnership with the Greening Youth Foundation a new batch of USFS Resource Assistants was hired in fall 2019.  With supervisor support, the interns will organize meetings to bring partners together to help develop a shared natural resource and recreation vision; actively seek out opportunities for the Forest Service to integrate more fully into the community, and coordinate events and activities to promote the outdoors to people of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences. 

The program will continue full-time for 11 months. The intern will assist higher-graded specialists in projects of limited difficulty to become familiar with multiple resource areas that perform on the ground work that helps manage the Monongahela National Forest. The north zone RA is Talia Schwelling. She will be based in Parsons with Jon Morgan as her supervisor.  She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy, worked for the National Park Service and is coming from Michigan.  The south zone RA is Clinton Gabbert.  He will be based out of the Marlinton Ranger District with Cindy Sandeno as his supervisor.  He has a master’s degree in forestry from WVU and was previously working as an analyst for the Appalachian Hardwood Center.      

WV Community Development Hub HUB CAP Program 

Through  WV Community Development Hub HUB CAP ProgramThrough the support of the USDA Rural Community Development Initiative program, the One Foundation and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the WV Community Development Hub has completed three rounds of its HubCAP Communities of Achievement program, providing multi-year community development coaching, technical assistance and project execution support to 21 communities in West Virginia. Each iteration of the program has been an improvement on the previous round, improving and refining the program to ensure that the highest quality of support is provided to each new class. In Fall 2020, The Hub will launch the fourth round of our HubCAP program working with the communities of Cowen, Franklin, Petersburg, Elkins, Marlinton and White Sulphur Springs.

HUB CAP Program 

Resources Attained 

  • $55,000 USFS Joint Chiefs funding.  Supported WVU community engagement to provide meeting facilitation, asset mapping, interpretive guide training, student support, and develop the Mon Forest Towns brand.
  • $8,000 Flex-e-grant from West Virginia Development Office to WVU to support asset mapping for IMBA Ride Center.  
  • $3,446 WVU Community Engagement Grant for community design in Marlinton, WV
  • $7,500 WVU Davis/Extension College seed grant to develop recreation economy indicators of success
  • $8,000 Flex-e-Grant for 15 guides to become Certified Interpretive Guides. 
  • Woodlands Development Group and Natural Capital Investment Fund secured  $1.3 million grant from ARC, EDA, and Benedum to support entrepreneurial development in the MNF gateway communities. 
  • $185,000 Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation Grant in 2020 to support development of a performance agenda, website, asset map, signage plan, signage mini-grants, and MTB trail planning under resources attained. 
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