Students, Faculty Helping Paintsville Obtain Trail Town Designation

Paintsville group photo

Just as it did with Elkhorn City a year ago, Eastern Kentucky University is partnering with the City of Paintsville to help the Johnson County seat earn designation as a Kentucky Trail Town.

Dozens of EKU Recreation and Park Administration students distributed surveys during the city’s recent Apple Festival as Paintsville leaders begin the multi-tiered process to move forward on its Trail Town application. Overseeing the students’ efforts are Project Co-Directors Dr. Michael Bradley and Dr. Ryan Sharp, as well as adjunct instructor Julie Sharp and Steve Chen from Morehead State University.

“We wanted to know what made the Paintsville area special to those in attendance at the festival,” Sharp said. “We also wanted to know what amenities and services visitors to the area were visiting and what they might like to see in the future.”

In addition to surveying visitors on topics related to outdoor recreation, students have been helping city leaders complete an analysis to identify potential outdoor recreation entrepreneurial opportunities and finish a commercial enterprise identification study. They have also assisted with a community interpretation plan, which targets specific ways to make ongoing connections with visitors to share natural, historical and cultural aspects of the city in an educational manner. In Spring 2015, a community survey will be administered, and EKU graduate students will assist local businesses with customer service training.

“All of these small projects feed into the larger task of completing the trail town application process,” Bradley said. “A leadership group in Paintsville will be utilizing all the information and completed projects from EKU to move forward with the entire application process.”

Bradley estimates that EKU’s portion of the project will be completed by the end of next summer.

“Kentucky, and eastern Kentucky especially, has a robust outdoor recreation industry in waiting,” Bradley said. “The numerous opportunities have not been historically used in an advantageous way to help Kentuckians. In that there is tremendous opportunity, movement toward an outdoor recreation-based economy makes sense. However, due to economic realities, investment to begin this process is difficult for many rural communities in Kentucky. Collaborations such as this enable communities to begin the process at a reduced cost and begin the process of education and investment so that they may take advantage of outdoor recreation opportunities.

“In the future,” Bradley continued, “our department would welcome additional partnerships to help other Kentucky communities to help position them to take advantage of their outdoor recreation opportunities.”

In announcing the program in 2012, Gov. Steve Beshear said Trail Towns is “a designation and assistance program to help communities connect the dots for travelers and guide them to trails, food, lodging, campgrounds, museums, entertainment and other services. 

The benefits to the participating EKU students are enormous, Bradley and Sharp agreed.

“Graduate students used knowledge attained in the classroom to facilitate research and develop an interpretation plan for Paintsville,” Bradley said. “Hands-on experience allows for an enhanced learning experience in total. Additional benefits included networking with local leadership, community members and outdoor recreation providers. The students will also be involved in the publication of a major technical report for the community.”

Undergraduate and graduate research methods classes were both involved in the creation and implementation of the survey, Sharp noted.

“The graduate students were also paired with undergrads as guides/mentors while in the field,” he said. “Both classes now will input the data and run some basic analysis. This gives students a full understanding of what is involved in collecting data, and how to do it right. Someday the students may be working for an agency that needs data on their visitors or clients. My hope is that as a result of an experience like this, they will know how to run a scientifically sound study that will yield useful results.”

In 2013, EKU students and faculty helped Elkhorn City, in Pike County, seek Trail Town designation. Then, earlier this year, the University partnered with AT&T to help the City of Livingston in Rockcastle County develop a marketing and public relations campaign in support of its Trail Town designation.

EKU’s Center for Appalachian Regional Engagement and Stewardship (CARES) provides a unified, comprehensive approach to stewardship and engagement that focuses on the five areas identified by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education: economic and workforce development, education, environment, collaborative government, and health, wellness and safety.

CARES, housed in the Office of University Programs, encompasses the Center for Appalachian Studies, the Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship Program, Service Learning, PRISM: A Journal of Regional Engagement, the Kentucky Institute for Public Governance and Civic Engagement, the Office of Regional Stewardship and the Regional Extension Agent Program.

“It was with the help of CARES, specifically Karrie Adkins and Ian Mooers, that we were able to make this project happen,” Bradley said. “We are appreciative of their efforts to help us give the students these experiences and provide a regional stewardship activity for our department.”

For more information about how CARES can assist with community needs, contact Ian Mooers at 859-622-2334 or ian.mooers@eku.edu or Karrie Adkins at 859-622-6168 or karrie.adkins@eku.edu, or visit regionalstewardship.eku.edu/eku-cares.

Published on October 21, 2014

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