Assessing Economic Impacts of Ecotourism in the Virginia Roanoke River Basin: Metrics Program Development Services
Ellerbrock, Michael J.
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The mission of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification & Community Revitalization Commission (VTICRC) includes helping rural communities transition from a tobacco-based monoculture to a diversified economy. One strategy, given a beautiful and vibrant foundation of natural resources in South and Southwest Virginia, is promotion of ecotourism. The influx of outside dollars adds to the region's economic base. Committed to environmental conservation and education, the Roanoke River Basin Association (RRBA) initiates planning programs to develop facilities and coordinates marketing of outdoor recreation opportunities and special events throughout the large watershed. Two recent thrusts of the RRBA are its development of an interactive website and investment in capital projects that installed trailhead signs and built launch facilities along the Roanoke River. A unique and noteworthy accomplishment of the RRBA is its design and installation of handicapped accessible launch sites that enable Wounded Warriors and other physically-challenged citizens to easily access the water. The 2007 Virginia Outdoors Plan (Department of Conservation & Recreation, Rev. 2013) advocated regional partnerships among agencies and cooperative agreements among localities to leverage resources for developing and promoting ecotourism. Rural counties in Southern Virginia are encouraged to work with riparian landowners and entrepreneurial business establishments to enhance paddling operations along the Roanoke River Basin (RRB). Hence, the VTICRC and RRBA wish to ascertain the economic effectiveness of their combined efforts in the “Upper Reach” mid-basin of the RRB. The Upper Reach Blueways Master Plan focuses specifically on six Virginia counties: Campbell, Charlotte, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Pittsylvania (Upper Reach 2011). In response to their Call for Proposals, Virginia Tech's (VT) Center for Economic Education in the Department of Agricultural Applied Economics of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences submitted a competitive research proposal to conduct an economic impact assessment of ecotourism in Virginia’s Upper Reach of the Roanoke River Basin during 2013-14. VT was awarded the study. This Report summarizes our findings.