The former coal mining communities of Southwest Virginia are converting their stalled economy to tourism by capitalising on the region’s rich history of country music. More than 20 towns have collaborated with arts foundations and local businesses to create “The Crooked Road”, an annual festival that stretches across 330 miles and connects 70 venues where bands play traditional Appalachian music. The project drives $6.4 million in annual spending to the region and creates an estimated 108 jobs per year.
Results & Impact
Tourism spending increased 52% from 2004 to 2015. The counties and cities in the area collected almost $25 million in taxes related to local travel in 2015
The Crooked Road, 19 counties, 4 cities and 50 towns across Southwest Virginia
The Crooked Road project curates a tourist trail of music and arts venues that stretches 330 miles through Southwest Virginia. It is administered by a non-profit of the same name, set up by a state heritage agency and funded by a wide range of arts foundations, government agencies and local tourism businesses. The towns involved also helped open farmers’ markets, coffee shops and breweries to capitalise on spending by tourists
Southwest Virginia, the state of Virginia, local cities and municipalities
Cost & Value
The Crooked Road brings $6.4 million in tourism spending to Southwest Virginia yearly
Running since 2004
Some communities were initially hesitant about the project, but local governments worked with The Crooked Road to persuade their peers to participate. Some got involved after The Crooked Road's extensive news coverage, but what proved most effective was for communities to see their neighbours report significant increases in tourism revenue
Twenty-one Southwest Virginia communities found an innovative way to fight the economic stagnation brought on by the decline of coal: they used the state’s rich history of country music to attract tourism.
Formed in 2004, The Crooked Road is now a 330-mile driving trail that connects 70 venues where local musicians play traditional Appalachian music. The project drives $6.4 million in annual spending to the region and creates an estimated 108 jobs per year.
“We started with all the towns that were really deteriorating. Instead of competing with Wal-Mart, let’s transfer the towns from a goods and services centre to a cultural centre,” said Todd Christensen, the Executive Director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and co-founder of the project.
“This area is where country music started. It’s also the place where it’s an integral part of the lifestyle. We realised this is our hook, and took an asset-based community development strategy.”
Small towns opened music and arts venues, farmers’ markets, coffee shops, and breweries to capitalise on spending by tourists, which rose 52% from 2004 to 2015. The counties and cities in the area collected almost $25 million in taxes related to local travel in 2015.
The Crooked Road, which runs the scheme, is a non-profit set up for this purpose by the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation, a state agency. It is funded by a wide range of arts foundations, development organisations and local tourism businesses. The towns involved provide the venues in exchange for funding and inclusion in the scheme.
Some communities were initially hesitant about the project, but local governments worked with Christensen to get their peers to participate. News coverage of Crooked Road encouraged some communities to get involved – but what proved most effective was for them to see their neighbours report significant increases in tourism revenue. Now, national, state, and local commissions support the project, which operates across 19 counties, four cities and 50 towns.
Southwest Virginia communities were built around coal mining, but the region now produces half the coal it did 10 years ago. As a result, the population of coal-producing counties is down, and unemployment is up – in some areas, like Buchanan County, as high as 9.5% (as of November 2016).
“We have had some much decline in these distressed communities – they’re losing their young people, their populations are ageing. Without an asset-based economic strategy, they may not have survived,” said Christensen.
(Picture credit: The Crooked Road)