On November 8, 2021, The Conservation Fund announced that it has received an award from the USDA-Rural Development’s Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC) for the development of a Resource and Recreation Action Plan to help revitalize the city of Madison and Boone County, West Virginia.
The Madison/Boone Resource and Recreation Action Plan will be developed to strengthen recreation options and community health, protect natural and cultural resources, and foster lasting economic development in this rural community. Hopefully, they will also create a strategic renewal process to ensure that the plan is successfully implemented, since the vast majority of such plans do nothing but take up shelf space.
The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to finding solutions that restore the environmental while revitalizing economies, recognizes that proximity to public lands is an economic and community asset, especially if the unique natural beauty and heritage are celebrated and preserved.
“The City of Madison is not making small plans,” said Mayor Buddy Hudson.
“Through outdoor recreation and tourism investments we see a path to make Madison and Boone County a more attractive place to live, locate a business and host visitors. With the Rural Development program bringing additional planning help we can identify resources and action plans that will improve our local economy, enhance our health and well-being, and help us achieve the big goals we have for the city,” he added.
Through the Action Plan, the Fund will conduct a process that is inclusive and locally driven by community leaders and members to better preserve and engage with these assets. Interactive, on-site workshops and meetings will be a key element of the Action Plan to help build capacity, connections, and expertise in the community.
“Madison and Boone County are ripe with potential, both economically and culturally, that will have a lasting impact on the entire region,” said Joe Hankins, West Virginia state director at The Conservation Fund. “We’re excited to work with our partners on a natural resource and outdoor recreation action plan that will take full advantage of these assets and are grateful for this USDA RPIC award and the overwhelming support we’ve received thus far.”
Madison and Boone County are uniquely situated near newly accessible public lands such as Forks of Coal State Natural Area and Tomblin Wildlife Management Area, and in regional proximity to the recently designated New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Kanawha State Forest, the Coal River Water Trail and the Hatfield McCoy Trails.
“West Virginia relies on outdoor recreation as a key part of our economy, including in our rural communities,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito said. “I’m thrilled the City of Madison and Boone County are receiving this funding, and I look forward to seeing how the partnership with The Conservation Fund drives business, tourism, and the local recreation economy for years to come.”
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, West Virginia’s outdoor recreational economy supports $1.5 billion in total outdoor recreation value added and roughly 23,000 jobs.
“The Wildlife Resources Section of the Division of Natural Resources is responsible for the sound management and conservation of West Virginia’s wildlife resources,” said Paul Johansen, Chief of the Wildlife Resources Section at WVDNR. “We are also charged with providing wildlife-associated recreational opportunities for our citizens. Investments in wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation infrastructure will support and expand this burgeoning industry and are a critical component of a West Virginia economy in rapid transition, especially as rural communities rediscover assets and rethink placemaking aspirations.”
In addition to the RPIC award from USDA-Rural Development, match funding was provided by Greenbrier Land Company and Appalachian Power Company.
“Greenbrier Land Company has been a long-standing property owner in the City of Madison and in the surrounding area and wishes to be a part of the effort to revitalize the community. This Rural Placemaking project will help the City of Madison and Boone County to develop a vision and to identify and implement steps to foster greater social and cultural vitality through asset-based community action. We are pleased to play a contributory role in this process,” said Greenbrier Land Company Manager, Douglas C. McElwee.
This is only the second year of RPIC awards, and the first award to be received by The Conservation Fund.
“I applaud The Conservation Fund for choosing to invest in southern West Virginia,” said Congresswoman Carol D. Miller. “Through their development of a Resource and Recreation Action Plan, The Conservation Fund will partner with local leaders to harness the full potential of Boone County’s natural resources. I was pleased to work alongside Senators Capito and Manchin to help secure this award, which will bring in more tourism opportunities and bolster West Virginia’s recreational economy.”
According to USDA, 19 percent of Americans live in rural areas yet receive only 7 percent of private foundation grants. This investment in rural West Virginia is a huge win for the state’s rural economy and ecosystems.
Featured photo of downtown Madison, West Virginia is by Tim Kiser via Wikipedia.