Members of the Clinch River Valley Initiative will meet Aug. 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Southwest Virginia Community College in Richlands, to discuss the actions and goals of the Clinch River Valley Initiative to enhance economic development, entrepreneurship and eco-tourism in the area. The event is open to the public but an RSVP is requested. Information is at www.clinchriverva.com.
The initiative has held several meetings and five action groups are planning for new access points, a new state park, education, water quality and economic development opportunities along the Clinch River Valley.
Afterward, there will be a community river walk from 4:30 to 6 p.m., followed by a barbecue picnic with free live music at Critterville Park from 6 to 8 p.m. RSVP's are requested for catering by going to the initiative's website.
The Clinch River Valley Initiative, which started at a forum around "Building Local Economies in Southwest Virginia," is a collaborative planning effort with several local and state community leaders across Southwest Virginia around the ecological and cultural diversity of the Clinch River Valley. It has established five goals for the area: create a Clinch River State Park; develop and integrate access points, trails and campgrounds along the river; improve water quality; develop and enhance environmental education opportunities for all community members in the watershed; and connect downtown revitalization and outdoor recreation efforts along the river while expanding entrepreneurship and marketing opportunities.
The picnic will feature live music by local musicians Greg Horn and Trish Pruitt, and collected local stories. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP by Aug. 4 here or at the initiative's website. In the event of rain, call 276-345-1665.
Background on the Clinch River Valley Initiative
The Clinch River Valley Initiative began with a September 2010 workshop at the University of Virginia's College at Wise focused on "Building Local Economies in Southwest Virginia," which provided a forum for community members to discuss ways to join economic and environmental well-being.
The effort has already led to the development of three riverside access points to support recreational activities; water quality improvements; environmental education events; and progress toward a potential Clinch River State Park. In addition, the State Park Action Group has received funding to perform an economic impact study focused on the potential merits of a river-based state park.
"We spent several dozen hours at the beginning of the project in conversations with local leaders and community members," said Christine Gyovai, an associate at U.Va.'s Institute for Environmental Negotiation for the past eight years who has worked on economic diversification in central Appalachia during that time. "Listening at the beginning was important in many ways, and continues to be."
In addition to several other areas of potential development discussed at the workshop, participants expressed concern about lack of access to the Clinch River, as well as maintaining its vitality and finding the resources to do so.
Over the course of several subsequent meetings, various stakeholders – with facilitation and coordination support from the Institute for Environmental Negotiation, as well as he Virginia Tourism Commission, the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation, nonprofit organizations, local businesses and the state departments of Conservation and Recreation, Forestry, and Housing and Community Development – came together to identify and articulate the five goals.
Groups are working to develop an action plan to move each of the goal areas toward the initiative's vision to advance local economic prosperity while improving the river's health.
"We help provide a forum for community members to discuss what they want to do with their community while helping to keep the overall CRVI parts connected and moving forward," Gyovai said. "This is a unique effort in central Appalachia in terms of the number of people involved, from students to business leaders to elders. It has a substantial amount of momentum and could serve as an example for other regions, particularly throughout central Appalachia."
The Clinch River Valley Initiative has been featured at national conferences, including an Environmental Conflict Resolution Conference in Tucson, Ariz. in May. The first Clinch River Environmental Education Symposium is scheduled to take place next summer.
The Clinch River Valley Initiative is connected to the Appalachian Prosperity Project, which seeks to advance education, health and business endeavors in the region by fostering collaboration between U.Va., U.Va.'s College at Wise, the Virginia Coalfields Coalition and other private entities and community members.
The Clinch River – one of the most biodiverse in North America – has become a central point of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation's mission to mediate environmental issues and facilitate community solutions. Institute director Frank Dukes' history in the region dates back to 1990, when he began working on a conflict involving the coal-mining industry and its impact on water resources.