ASHLAND — Officials in several Eastern Kentucky counties are ramping up efforts to create water trails in an effort to attract more adventure tourism.
The Independent in Ashland reports that Prestonsburg and Paintsville are working together to create an interpretive trail along the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River. The cities also are working with other agencies to build a boat ramp and a camping area to attract visitors to the winding waterway that begins in Pike County and flows through Floyd and Johnson counties.
Two access points added to the Little Sandy River last year are proving popular among locals and out-of-towners.
Big Sandy Area Development District project manager Regina Hall McClure said the projects are seen as a way to improve the economy in the area.
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"Somebody here is working on something adventure tourism-related every day. In terms of economic development, it is what we're focusing on," she said.
Elliott County extension agent Gwenda Johnson said she began working on tourism for the area in 1992, when "people looked at you like you were sort of crazy."
"Now they are starting to see the potential for businesses," Johnson said. "It is really starting to take hold with people."
She says the better access to the water has been a big attraction.
"It is first-class. It is absolutely gorgeous," said Johnson, who has floated down the river three times. "It takes about three hours to get from the boat ramp down to the first takeout. This time of year, you will see the waterfalls and the spring flowers. In the fall when the leaves change, you get a different perspective with the cliff line. We've had a lot of people call about it and we have a new business in town because of it."
Meanwhile, McClure says work is progressing on the Levisa Fork project.
"It's going to develop sign-age to tell the history of the river," McClure said. "You'll be able to learn about the river as you float. That is going to be an attractor. There is a rich and diverse history along the river.
"Markers will tell the significance of places like Harmon Station, where Jenny Wiley crossed the river while fleeing from her captors, areas where there were Civil War skirmishes and some local legends. I think it's going to be a very successful project once we get it rolling."
She says there also is interest in improving access to Tygart Creek in Carter County.