What is the purpose of the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area?
For centuries, the forests of the Appalachian Mountains have sustained local settlers, provided raw materials for America's economic expansion, and inspired visitors. The Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area (AFNHA) tells the story of this forest legacy and the mountain people who forged it.
The AFNHA attracts visitors to discover the rich forest heritage of the highlands of West Virginia and western Maryland. Visitors explore thematic trails leading them to recreation, learning, entertainment, and appreciation experiences targeted to their own interests.
Communities benefit from the AFNHA in several ways. Economic markets increase for local events and attractions, tourist services, forest industry products and the arts. Communities grow stronger through local participation and regional networking. The entire region works with a shared approach to use, conservation, and appreciation of our multi-faceted forest.
Mission and Goals
The AFNHA mission is to work locally to conserve, develop, interpret, and promote a regional network of forest-based resources and experiences in the highlands of West Virginia and Maryland for the enjoyment and appreciation of residents and visitors in order to enhance economic and community development.
The four primary goals are to:
- Develop a regional Heritage Area based on forest heritage.
- Develop and promote a cohesive regional network of forest heritage tourism destinations.
- Strengthen small businesses, communities, and grassroots organizations; foster local economic development; and build regional partnerships.
- Provide interpretation of a broad range of forest themes.
- AFNHA values partnerships and communication across geographic lines and interest areas, seeking diverse and open participation with balanced representation of all partners in decision making, access to resources, and presentation.
- AFNHA seeks to provide education and interpretation for a broad range of local and visitor audiences, presenting messages in entertaining formats with scholarly accuracy, balanced presentation of differing viewpoints, and respect for the complexity of the issues.
- AFNHA values showing the working forest as an active force in
the region's present and
future, including making connections between the natural resources of the forest, people's livelihoods that are dependent on the forest, and the products from the forest that the whole country uses.
- AFNHA values education and interpretation on issues regarding long-term sustainability for the forest that respects needs and concerns of forestry and forest products industries, of economic and social needs of forest communities, and for health and biodiversity of the forest ecosystems.
- AFNHA utilizes cultural / heritage / nature tourism as a means to bring economic benefits to the AFNHA communities in a well-thought-out and balanced way that respects community values. Encouraging visitor respect of local standards and privacy, and targeting promotion to those sites and communities who wish to invite visitation, are among the tools that will be used to manage tourism impact.
- All participation in AFNHA programs or projects will be strictly voluntary. No resident, property owner, business, organization, or community will be considered a partner, nor will they be included in or bound by any agreements of the AFNHA, heritage area designation, or the management plan, unless they specifically choose to participate.
- AFNHA is not a land management organization, and has no land management agenda. Designation of AFNHA as a National Heritage Area will have no impact on private property within the area. AFNHA has no power or authority, nor will it ever accept any such authority, to regulate, zone, or control private property use. AFNHA cannot use federal funds to purchase land.
An initiative of West Virginia University's Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences and the WVU Extension Service, an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area was originally funded by a USDA "Fund for Rural America" grant. It was coordinated by a project team from West Virginia University (WVU) and Canaan Valley Institute (CVI), with active partnership from state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and communities throughout the area.
After its October 2001 inception, the AFHA project convened large-group stakeholder meetings and numerous task group sessions. A broad range of participants with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints participated to guide the project's course. The work of building a consistent theme and integrated network went hand-in-hand with communities committing to local projects. This grassroots approach helped ensure local community successes and balanced direction.
The initial AFHA grant expired in the fall of 2005. In order to carry on these efforts beyond the initial grant, a non-profit organization called Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, Inc. was created to assume responsibility for the future. A non-profit Governing Council representing communities, interest groups, and involved stakeholders and partners defined a vision and a plan for the project. Task groups were active on a number of fronts: identifying assets, interpretation, business development, communications, marketing, and organization. Three pilot communities -- Webster County, WV, Randolph County, WV and Garrett County, MD -- implemented projects in model communities.
The Stakeholders participating agreed on Core Values emphasizing voluntary partnerships from a broad range of interest groups, balanced interpretation, forest sustainability for industry, communities, and ecosystems, working forests and cultural heritage tourism as components of economic development, and that AFHA was not a land management organization. The enthusiasm and participation level in the existing AFHA project indicated the success of this collaborative approach respecting diverse points-of-view.