The Clinch River Valley Initiative, a program coordinated by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation, was awarded the Blue Ridge Travel Association’s Initiative of the Year award at the organization’s annual conference, held Nov. 1 and 2 in Galax. The initiative was honored for its efforts – from the watershed to regional scale – to revitalize the economy of the area with a focus on the Clinch River, one of the most biodiverse river systems in North America.
Using a consensus-based approach, project partners across the region have formed a vision, set goals and developed an action plan. Its goals include establishing a Clinch River State Park, identifying and opening access points to the river, building trails and campgrounds, enhancing water quality, developing environmental education opportunities, identifying opportunities to connect downtown revitalization and outdoor recreation along the river and expanding entrepreneurship and marketing opportunities.
“The effort builds upon the unique cultural and ecological assets of the Clinch River to distinguish and create new possibilities in the communities along the Clinch River as distinctive cultural and ecological areas, particularly around environmental education, economic development and entrepreneurship opportunities,” wrote Margie Douglass, director of tourism for Tazewell County, in a nomination letter for the award.
Graduate interns at the Institute for Environmental Negotiation helped, along with many of the initiative’s participants, draft the document that outlines a strategic vision in the Clinch River Valley Initiative Action Plan. More than $220,000 in grants from state, federal and private sources are providing seed funding for each of the goal initiatives, including funding for an environmental impact analysis for the state park, developing environmental signage along the river and the creation of an ecological center.
Currently, the steering committee is circulating a resolution of support from organizations, businesses and community members in the Clinch River area to promote interest and support at the state level for the initiatives, including the designation of the state park and other enterprises.
“This award comes at a time when a significant amount of momentum is being developed around the Clinch River Valley Initiative,” said M. Christine Gyovai, an associate at the Institute for Environmental Negotiation, who oversees the initiative with the institute’s director, Frank Dukes. “The award highlights the hard work of many people involved with CRVI, and brings recognition to the substantial progress and potential of the vision and goals of the initiative.”
The Clinch River Valley Initiative began in 2010. At a forum, “Building Local Economies in Southwest Virginia,” convened and facilitated by the Institute for Environmental Negotiation, about 60 participants from a range of organizations and interest groups – including the Virginia Department of Forestry, U.Va.’s College at Wise, economic developers, concerned citizens, environmental groups and various state agencies – started the effort to build Southwest Virginia economies with a focus on outdoor recreation and downtown revitalization – the Clinch River Valley Initiative resulted from that forum.
The initiative’s next meeting will be held Jan. 30 at U.Va.-Wise, and the public is invited to attend. More information about the meeting may be found at the initiative’s website.