2017-11-15 / Front Page

County residents urged to vote to bring free concert series here

By SAM ADAMS

Cowan Community Center and the City of Whitesburg are urging residents to go online before Monday and vote for the community as part of a grant process that would bring a 10-week free concert series to Letcher County.

The Levitt Amp promotion is one of seven projects volunteers recruited at the Letcher County Tourism Commission town hall on Tuesday plan to work on in the next month.

The community center and the city are working together on the proposal, which would bring free outdoor concerts to the Mountain Heritage Stage in downtown Whitesburg for 10 weeks next summer. Acts would range across the spectrum of music and would be paid for by a $25,000 grant.

“There really would be something for everybody,” said Valerie Ison Horn, who is leading the project.

The group is urging residents to go online to www.levittamp.org to sign up and vote for Whitesburg. The city and center are competing with 35 others across the nation for the grant. Two other cities in Kentucky — Middlesboro and Berea — are also in the running.

“Until yesterday, we were in first place among 36 cities,” she said.

Others competing include Chattanooga, Tenn., and Providence, R.I. Fifteen will be funded for concerts, with the winners announced Jan. 2, 2018, Horn said.

“One of the biggest things is this concert series will be promoting Whitesburg across the country,” she said.

The project was already in the works, but a town hall meeting at the Letcher County Extension Office on Tuesday provided an opportunity for volunteers to develop strategies for making it a reality. As many as 2,000 visitors are expected to come to the county, if the grant is awarded here.

The meeting also produced five other projects that are longer term, including developing Little Shepherd Trail with overlooks and places for cars to pull off when meeting others, developing additional historic districts in the county and promoting the existing one in Whitesburg, developing lodging options in the county, developing tours along KY 7, promoting travel itineraries, and building the Tanglewood Trail, a bicycle and hiking trail from the top of Pine Mountain to Ermine that was first conceived 10 years ago.

Nicole Green of Vibrant Strategic Planning, a management consultant from South Carolina, led volunteers through the planning process, listing group tasked with listing opportunities in the county mentioned, among other things, mountains, a farmers market and food. Green warned them she planned to poke holes in their plans, then pointed out that Boone, N.C., has the same kind of attractions.

“Whoopty-doo!” Green said. “A lot of people have those things.”

She said the problem many peoples have is “getting stuck on the what,” meaning that everyone knows “what” they want to see in their community, but to be successful they have to know why tourists would spend time, money and effort to see it.

The projects taken on Tuesday are expected to be completed from as soon as four days for the Levitt Project to two years for the historic districts. The next project to be completed is construction of pull-offs and overlooks on the Little Shepherd Trail.

Sherry Cornett, manager of Kingdom Come State Park, said she is confident that just improving that trail will increase tourism.

“In my first year as park manager, we had 397 percent increase in revenue just by refurbishing and cleaning up the park,” she said.

Letcher County Tourism Commission Chair Missy Matthews said the meeting is the second in what she hopes will be an ongoing series of meetings to involved the community in tourism here. The first meeting, she said, was about the problems that need to be overcome, but she said it seemed that everyone there was tired of talking about that.

“All of us that live here know about them. We’re ready to talk about solutions,” she said. “It’s kind of like that relative who’s just a little bit different – you just accept it and move on.”

Matthews said the only criticism she has heard about the meeting Tuesday was that it was held at 9 a.m., when many people are working. She said despite the perception that working people can’t come, daytime meetings have historically had better attendance here than nighttime meetings because “there are children and sports events that make it even harder to come.”

Matthews said she has had an online project page created for the rest of the tourism commission to keep up with what they miss when they’re not able to come to events like Tuesdays, and so far the work that has been done has been at no cost to the county. All of the materials for the new overlooks and all of the labor was donated, and the vans used for guided tours are being leased through LKLP Community Action Agency at no cost.

The commission still has plans to build overlooks at Jenkins and on the south side of Pine Mountain, and is working with the state highway department on signage directing drivers to local tourist attractions.

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