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New River Gorge Wayfinding Team set to commission a Wayfinding Assessment by end of the year

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BECKLEY, W.Va. — The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA), alongside partners throughout the region, is focusing efforts on maximizing community and economic development opportunities in Gateway Communities to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

A regional wayfinding team coordinated by NRGRDA plans to commission a New River Gorge Regional Wayfinding Assessment later this year by Downstream Strategies, a West Virginia firm that “strengthens economies, sustains healthy environments, and builds resilient communities.”

Regional wayfinding will direct visitors to recreational assets, cultural resources, local businesses, and amenities while they travel through Gateway Communities in the New River Gorge Region. Regional collaboration and branding will support the region’s communities in leveraging economic development and small business creation. Corey Lilly, Director of Outdoor Economic Development with the City of Beckley said “the implementation of a New River Gorge regional brand and wayfinding system holds immense significance, as it not only fuels economic prosperity but also unites the local gateway communities, foster stronger bonds, camaraderie, and a shared sense of pride in the region’s natural beauty, world class outdoor recreation, and cultural heritage.”

The New River Gorge wayfinding team is meeting regularly following its participation in the Appalachia Gateway Communities Initiative (AGCI) workshop, held October 22-24, 2022 in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. AGCI is sponsored through a partnership between the Appalachian Regional Commission and The Conservation Fund.

New River Gorge wayfinding team members include:

  • Christy Bailey: Executive Director, National Coal Heritage Area Authority
    • Anne Cavalier: Mayor, City of Smithers
    • Andy Davis: Director of Strategic Redevelopment, NRGRDA
    • Christine Kinder: Extension Educator, West Virginia State University 
    • Corey Lilly: Director, Outdoor Economic Development Office, City of Beckley
    • Rebecca Peterson: Executive Director, Explore Summers County
    • Allison Smith: Grants and Impact Manager, NRGRDA
    • Andy Steel: GIS Specialist, National Park Service 
    • Stacy Thomas: Community Coaching Programs Coordinator, West Virginia Community Development Hub
    • Beach Vickers: SPARKS Director, City of Smithers
The NRG Wayfinding Team, from left: Rebecca Peterson (Explore Summers County), Beach Vickers (City of Smithers), Stacy Thomas (WV Community Development Hub), Chance Raso (was with NRGRDA, now at the National Park Service), Christine Kinder (West Virginia State University), Christy Bailey (National Coal Heritage Area Authority), and Corey Lilly (City of Beckley). Photo courtesy of NRGRDA

By January 2024, NRGRDA and the team will have in hand a report that outlines the steps for establishing a regional wayfinding system. “Our communities around the new national park are like the spokes of a wheel with the park at the hub. Our goal is to cooperate to lay out the welcome mat for visitors and direct them to the park, while letting them know we have a lot more to offer in southern West Virginia to enhance and extend their stay here. Everybody wins,” said Beach Vickers, SPARKS Director with the City of Smithers.

The report will include the core elements of a regional wayfinding system; present the overall process and steps; identify high-level gaps in existing regional signage, with basic recommendations for how to address those gaps; explore the Mon Forest Towns Partnership as a case study; provide budget estimates for implementing each step of the regional-scale wayfinding system; and identifies potential funding streams the regional wayfinding team and partners can pursue for implementation.

Since attending the AGCI workshop, the group has secured $6,250 in combined grant funding and donations from the National Coal Heritage Area Authority and Explore Summers County. The funds will be used to retain Downstream Strategies for the establishment of a Wayfinding Assessment for the New River Gorge Region. “The gateway communities to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, like Smithers, are rich with beauty and are investing in interesting attractions for friends visiting from around the world.  These attractions are the parts to our new economic engine, holding promise of new businesses and jobs; but you often need to hunt for these gems, and wayfinding provides the treasure map allowing visitors to come to us and for us to provide unique experiences,” said Anne Cavalier, Mayor of the City of Smithers.

Jina Belcher, NRGRDA executive director, said the wayfinding assessment is a critical next step for the region. She said the report will help leverage additional funding to support future updates, including branding, sign design, and wayfinding installation. 

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About New River Gorge Regional Development Authority: The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority’s (NRGRDA) mission is to initiate, facilitate and support the economic and community development efforts within the counties of Fayette, Nicholas, Raleigh, and Summers located in this region of southern West Virginia. NRGRDA stimulates the regional economy through business expansion and retention efforts, including an extensive portfolio of financial services; the management of sites for new companies locating to our region; and serving as a point of access for local service providers which offer a variety of technical assistance for business owners. The West Virginia Hive is the entrepreneurship program of the NRGRDA and the administrator of the Country Roads Angel Network (CRAN).

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