Regional recreation economy initiative gains new ground – congratulations to Mon Forest Towns!

Ribbon cutting for new welcome signage in Petersburg, WV

BY TALIA SCHWELLING, NORTH ZONE RESOURCE ASSISTANT, US FOREST SERVICE

The Mon Forest Towns Partnership (MFTP) is a collaborative, regional effort between ten communities throughout the Monongahela National Forest and is supported by the US Forest Service (USFS), USDA Rural Development (USDA RD), and West Virginia University (WVU). Our vision is to connect communities to each other, to the Forest, and to our natural resources to generate positive and tangible outcomes that will improve quality of life and vitality of this region. Through relationship-building, community engagement, and resource sharing, the partnership aims to foster a sustainable recreation economy across the Mon Forest region. The MFTP has worked or will be working with the WV Community Development Hub in several of the MFTP communities: Cowen, Elkins, Franklin,Marlinton,  Petersburg, Parsons, Richwood and White Sulphur Springs. Thomas and Davis are also a part of the larger regional partnership.

After three years of hard work and dedication, the MFTP signed a Memorandum of Understanding and became an official partnership earlier this year! 

As a young initiative, we have hit the ground running and have a lot of exciting things happening now and in the future. Here are just a few projects we have in the works now:

  1. New town welcome signs. Each community has worked closely with our WVU graphic design partners to customize a Mon Forest Towns welcome sign for their town. The welcome signs have icons with town amenities and three embedded circles that represent each town’s unique spirit.  Some towns have already installed their signs and held ribbon cuttings to celebrate!
  2. New wayfinding signage and interpretive materials. To guide visitors to community resources and forest recreation opportunities as well as promote the partnership, Mon Forest Towns is working with WVU graphic designers to create branded signage.  Kiosks, maps, brochures, interpretive signage, and wayfinding signage are being designed and prepped for printing this fall – see some examples of the works in progress below. The examples have not yet been finalized, but are shared with the permission of the designers).
  3. New collaborative marketing campaign. We want to spread awareness about Mon Forest Towns, and what better way than fun and informative merchandise?  We are working on creating stickers, buttons, window clings, and rack cards to get the word out.
  4. New public and green spaces. Towns are working directly with the Landscape Architecture program at WVU to create vibrant community spaces that cater to both locals and tourists. Marlinton’s Discovery Junction is a great example of a community effort to transform a vacant lot into a downtown rallying point for the community and its visitors, we hope to see more projects like this in the future.
  5. New online presence. Web development and GIS specialists from WVU have created a beautiful online space for the partnership that includes a forest-wide asset map, town features, and blog space for storytelling.  The asset map allows locals and visitors alike the freedom to discover opportunities across the forest in our ten communities and beyond.  This site will go live fall 2020.
  6. New plans for trails. We have secured funding for IMBA Trail Solutions to work with Mon Forest Towns, Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center working group, and the Town of Marlinton to develop a detailed plan for purpose-built mountain bike trails that will propel the economy of Pocahontas County, WV.
  7. Support for small businesses. Mon Forest Towns is fortunate to collaborate closely with Woodlands Development Group. Woodlands has served a myriad of small businesses with grants, loans, and technical assistance and has been a crucial partner as we navigate through the impacts of COVID-19.

To find more information about Mon Forest Towns and how our initiative is growing, be on the lookout for our website that will go live this fall!

Plans for new community wayfinding and interpretative signage are in progress now. Check out these examples of early-stage designs!

Talia Schwelling is the North Zone Resource Assistant at the US Forest Service. Talia can be reached at talia.schwelling@usda.gov

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For too long, who and what it means to be a West Virginian has been defined for us. It’s time to redefine the Mountain State in our own words and in the eyes of the world. West Virginia can be anything we want it to be – let’s redefine it together.

Parsons

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Message from our Executive Leadership Team

Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

Over the past two years, the team at The Hub has adapted to the unprecedented challenges our communities have faced during the pandemic by leaning into our core strengths to deepen our impact. The Hub remains committed to tackling persistent challenges, and we have focused our attention on the most impactful elements of our work.

We are supporting community leaders to advance their visions for local development, creating new pathways for engagement and leadership growth through our virtual training platform, and leading strategies that lift up voices of community leaders to move forward solutions to long-held challenges to growth.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that nothing about the future is set in stone. While the coming year may present enormous opportunities for advancement in our state, they will also inevitably require significant capacity building, shared strategies that are grounded in trust-based partnerships, and extended efforts to support the leadership development of individuals and organizations who have been asked to do more during a time of extreme stress and strain.

The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Emma Pepper

Director of Strategic Network Communications

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Systemic Change

2021 became a time period of catalytic potential as we saw years of investment into our core strategies to enact systemic change yield new results. Our strategic focus areas include policy, communications, and supporting the community economic development system in leveraging unique financing opportunities such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative and Opportunity Zones.

In addition, through our strategic policy support role within the Abandoned Properties Coalition, The Hub successfully advanced two key objectives: the creation of a statewide land bank at the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation and extension of the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. 

Through the Opportunity Appalachia program, 6 catalytic community projects located in WV-based Opportunity Zones received $250,000 for pre-development technical assistance. Three projects received additional private funding as a result of program participation.

Community Coaching

In 2021, we accompanied 16 communities through our in-depth, professional coaching programs. In addition to leaning into coaching and financing opportunities offered through these programs, participating communities leveraged an additional $2.8 million in funding on their own for community economic development projects. While participating in our entry-level coaching program, Cultivate WV, Montgomery and Smithers realized momentum-building success through access to $40,000 in seed funding for projects like farmers markets, public art, wayfinding, community events, and development of a trail system.

Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

Elkins

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Marlinton

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Charleston

A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Leadership Development

As hundreds of people began to engage in our virtual training activities in 2020, we saw a critical opportunity to scale and deepen our impact. This year, The Hub team developed an accessible, virtual platform with options for self-guided and group learning activities as well as professional coaching.

Kickstart Communities is now the crux of our efforts to bring new people into the work and grow their leadership. These activities now form the foundational stages of a Community Leadership Development Pipeline to move motivated residents from seeing the challenges in their communities to proactively collaborating to resolve them.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.