Courses and Events

In partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), The Conservation Fund is pleased to announce the 2024 Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative (AGCI) program. Select community-based teams from gateway communities in the Appalachian Region will participate in a program that enables them to build on the opportunities created by proximity to a public land asset and their confluence of resources, fostering economic opportunity to generate lasting health for people and places. The program consists of an in-person workshop (April 16-18, 2024, in Decatur, Alabama, with an optional tour on April 15) as well as pre- and post-workshop webinars. Following the program’s training component, community teams are eligible to apply for a seed grant for project implementation.   



Application Deadline: February 6, 5:00 p.m. ET


Program Information: 

Through the program, teams will be provided the skills and knowledge to: 

  • Leverage natural, cultural, and recreation assets 
  • Revitalize main streets and downtowns 
  • Promote arts and culture opportunities 
  • Build cultural heritage and natural resource tourism 
  • Create lasting economic opportunity 


The program focuses on the specific trends and opportunities in Appalachian gateway communities related to sustainable drivers for economic development, cultural heritage and natural resource tourism. It also incorporates the arts to strengthen and brand communities. A coach will be made available to each team during the workshop, with support from The Conservation Fund across the program.   

In addition to content from national and regional subject matter experts, a core element of the program is facilitated exercises that lead the community teams through asset identification, strengths and gaps assessment, and action planning. Each team develops a detailed action plan through the program to implement a collaborative project of value to their community. After completing the training program, teams can apply for seed grant funding to help implement the action plan! 

The program registration fee is $600 per team. This covers the curriculum content as well as meals during the workshop. Teams/team members will be responsible for their lodging during the workshop ($142/night for single or double occupancy) and travel to and from the workshop. Limited travel assistance and reduced registration fees are available if needed.  


  • Team applicants must be located within the Appalachian Region as defined by ARC — to confirm, see here
  • Teams must represent a gateway community defined as a community that borders or is near publicly owned lands such as national and state parks and forests.  
  • Preference will be given to teams representing at least one county classified as ‘distressed’ or ‘at-risk’ by ARC (FY 2024). To confirm economic distress status, see here


Community-Based Teams: 

  • Communities are selected to attend as a team of 5-8 community members.  
  • Each team must have at least one community leader (elected official or acknowledged community leader), one public land representative, and one arts representative.  
  • Additional team representatives may come from tourism bureaus/destination management organizations, chamber of commerce or local business representatives, natural resource representatives, recreation assets representatives, civic leaders or others in public service roles.  
  • Team participants should be selected based on who has (or should have) the ability to influence or lead implementation related to gateway community assets and amenities, programming and interpretation, visitor services, marketing and communications, or community capacity.  
  • Team membership should reflect a diverse cross-section of the community.   
  • All workshop team members are expected to attend the entire workshop and pre-/post-workshop webinars; additional community members may participate in the initial exercise (pre-workshop) to identify assets. 


Next Steps: 

LEARN MORE — Informational Webinar on January 10, 2024 from 3-4 pm Eastern Time 

Attendance by at least one team member is strongly encouraged at this webinar, where program highlights will be provided, application information will be discussed, and questions from attendees will be addressed. Attendance is recommended but not required; a recording of the session will be posted online. 




EXPRESS INTEREST – Letter of Interest due by 5:00 pm Eastern Time on January 24, 2024 

This is an opportunity for interested teams to describe the gateway community including community location, neighboring public land, potential team participants, brief descriptions of issues, topics of interest, and any previous interaction with AGCI. Teams that submit the letter of interest form will get preference in the final selection process.  



APPLY – Team Application due by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on February 6, 2024 

Please see the link below for detailed application instructions. It is recommended that teams review the information prior to accessing the online application form. For questions on forming a team or completing the application please contact Susan Elks by email or phone at 610-563-1516. The registration fee is $600 per team, with payment due in early March following selection of teams.  




Important Dates: 

  • January 10, 2024: Informational webinar *recommended, not required 
  • January 24, 2024 by 5 pm ET: Letter of interest deadline *recommended, not required 
  • February 6, 2024 by 5 pm ET: Team application deadline 
  • February 23, 2024: Notification of team acceptance 
  • March 8, 2024: Team registration fee ($600) & team member confirmation due  
  • March 13 & 20, 2024, 3-5 pm ET: Pre-workshop webinars (tentative dates) 
  • April 15, 2024: Optional afternoon tour (in-person in Decatur, Alabama)
  • April 16-18, 2024: Workshop (in-person, Decatur, Alabama)
  • May 2024 (dates TBD): Post-workshop webinars (2) 
  • June 2024: Seed grant process 



For additional information about the 2024 Regional Training Program for Appalachian Gateway Communities, please contact Susan Elks by email or by phone at 610-563-1516.