The outdoor recreation industry is a large and growing business in the United States. Of the three states in the project area, out-of-state visitors to Kentucky spend 4.35 billion on outdoor recreation trips, in Virginia out-of-state visitors spend 6.42 billion on outdoor recreation, and in West Virginia out-of-state visitors spend 4.4 billion of outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation in Virginia generates 197,000 direct jobs, 120,000 direct jobs in Kentucky, and outdoor recreation generates 91,000 direct jobs in West Virginia. (Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation, Outdoor Industry Association, December 2017).
These numbers are promising and present many opportunities for expanding the outdoor tourism industry in central Appalachia. Water trails offer a new and unique way to engage and attract tourists whether they are fishing, paddling for exercise, or engaging the entire family in float trips. In An Economic Argument for Water Trails (River Management Society, October 2015) the case is made for developing water trails as an economic development activity. While no comprehensive national study on the impact of water trails has been done, the report cites an economic impact study of the 104 mile Huron River Water Trail which hosts 103,000 paddlers each year with an economic impact of $50 million. The study also cites other benefits of water trails such as increased environmental awareness, local participation in environmental monitoring and debris removal, and creating “amenity rich” communities that attract new residents.
Paddling sports, which includes kayaking, canoing, and stand up paddle boarding are quickly becoming one of the most popular sports in the country. The American Canoe Association is one of the nation’s largest and most active paddle sport nonprofits has over 30,000 members and over 300 Clubs and Affiliates across the United States and abroad. A report, The 2015 Special Report on Paddlesports, issued by the Outdoor Foundation (outdoorfoundation.org) showed that paddlesports are on the rise, again setting a record for the number of participants, 21.7 million Americans, 7.4 percent of the population participating in paddling sports in 2014. This represents an increase of more than 3 million participants since the study began in 2010. Additionally, paddlers averaged 7 annual outings in 2014, up from 6.8 the year before and collectively, paddling participants made nearly 216 million outings.
The development of the Tug Fork River as a water trail presents many opportunities for attracting a new population to the mountains in addition to providing more outdoor recreation opportunities for those already coming, encouraging them to stay longer and to increase economic activity.