2017-09-20 / Front Page

County tourism board planning to fix, promote sites already here

By WILLIAM FARLEY

Efforts to lure tourists to Letcher County will focus on attractions that already exist but can be improved, the county’s new tourism chair said this week.

Missy Matthews told the Letcher Fiscal Court at its September meeting Monday that she and other members of the Letcher County Tourism Commission want to concentrate on “low hanging fruit” for now — that is, attractions that are already in the county, easily available to the public, and can be improved for a relatively low cost.

Matthews also said that “branding” is now a focus for the commission, which she said is working on a new logo and a new web page will be done in-house to save money.

Among the existing attractions Matthews mentioned are the overlooks on Pine Mountain that provide spectacular views of Letcher County from Kentucky’s second highest mountain. Highlighting the view from Pine Mountain has long been a target for tourism promotion, dating back to the building of the first road across the mountain. Unfortunately, that goal was never accomplished, but some of the views from US 119 and along the Little Shepherd Trail are among the most spectacular in the state.

Matthews also said the commission wants to obtain “wayfinding signs” to direct travelers to attractions in the county, some of which will have guided tours offered as well. She said the tours would be offered in several packages, among them half day, day long, and assisted (in a van). She said the commission also wants to continue the work on the Tanglewood Trail and other trail projects in the county.

“If you can imagine it, we’ll make a tour out of it,” said Matthews.

The tourism committee meets on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at Pine Mountain Grill in Whitesburg. However, Matthews said the group will meet at about any site in the county if a request is made.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, the fiscal court learned that lowcost energy audits are now available to county residents to help them reduce their power bills.

Seth Long, Executive Director of HOMES Inc. of Whitesburg, and Tyler Johnson, who is directing the “Appalachian Heat Squad” in Letcher County, described their program that offers complete energy audits for homeowners for $50.

Long said the audits are available to people of all income brackets, but added that people who fall under the HOMES eligibility guidelines can get them for free or at a reduced price. Johnson said the Heat Squad is a project sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission and is currently in a nine-county district in eastern Kentucky. The organization is working with FAHE (formerly Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises) and Neighborhood Works America (NWA), and the purpose of the Heat Squad is to expand access to energy efficient home improvements that will save people money, improve their quality of life and comfort, and extend the life of their homes.

Long told the court that HOMES has achieved serious energy and money savings at its office on Bentley Avenue in Whitesburg. He said some savings improvements are simple, and that relatively low-cost measures include changing out old light bulbs for energy efficient LCD bulbs and sealing windows to keep cold air out and warm air in.

Johnson said that there are financing options available for homeowners who wish to follow the advice of the audits and upgrade their homes energy systems. Loans of up to $15,000 are available and they will try to structure the loans so the amount of energy savings each month will match the loan payment. For further information, call (833) 986- 0088, or go to www.appalachinaheatsquad.org. A contact form for Appalachian Heat Squads is available at http://www.appalachiaheatsquad.org/contact-us/. The audits are more intensive than those conducted by AEP, and HOMES is an AEP Certified Contractor.

In other business, Captain Barry Engle of the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department asked the court to approve declaring four old police cruisers as surplus so the department can dispose of them. Engle said that one is complete scrap and has been cannibalized, and the others are past their usefulness. He said the department would handle decommissioning the vehicles but that the couth holds the titles. County Attorney Jamie Hatton said the easiest thing is for the court to sign ownership over to the sheriff ’s department. The vote to approve the request was unanimous.

The court also voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to support the application of an Administration of Kentucky Office of Homeland Security Projects for Sheriff ’s Department Tasers. Engle said the grant will provide 10 new Tasers for deputies to replace the old ones which are about worn out. The grant will pay most of the $10,000 cost and the department will bear the remainder of the cost of about $2,000.

Judge/ Executive Jim Ward announced that the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife is conducting a project that will drop rabies vaccine to raccoons in Letcher and Harlan counties by fixed wing airplanes and from helicopters. Ward said the vaccine is not harmful to pets and if someone’s dog does eat one, it won’t harm it. He added that there have been no reported cases of rabies in Letcher or Harlan counties, but there have been cases in Virginia.

Ward also read a proclamation to commemorate the 18 years and six months of service by Sue Dunn, who recently retired as a Deputy County Court Clerk and Court of the Fiscal Court. The court also voted unanimously to approve the second reading of the Letcher County Five Year Solid Waste Management Plan. The solid waste management plan is required by the state to be upgraded every five years and the first reading was held at last month’s court meeting.

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