A Birthplace of Rivers National Monument could boost tourism and help the state replace losses in the coal and gas industries, according to supporters.
As West Virginia wrestles with the fallout of declines in fossil-fuel prices, folks such as Gil Willis, vice president of the Pocahontas County Tourism Board, are hoping to draw more visitors to natural attractions here.
Willis says tourism jobs may not pay what mining or drilling work does. But he says they’re more reliable and won’t go away with the next bust.
“Tourism is not going to save the state,” says Willis. “But as long as we take care of this resource that we have, it will keep giving back forever. This is the gift that keeps giving.”
A recent report from the group Small Business Majority found national monuments contributed up to a $150 million a year to local economies. Some oppose expanding federal land protections on principle. But Willis says the Birthplace of Rivers Monument would be made up of land the government already owns.
“Virginia, Ohio, Maryland do not have these beautiful resources,” he says. “People will come to this state forever, and build second homes, and spend money.”
More than 200 area small business owners and community officials have signed on to the Birthplace of Rivers push. Willis says according to state figures, tourism already brings $140 million a year to Pocahontas County. But he says most of that is tied to skiing at Snowshoe, and they want to bring more folks in during the warm months…