Appalachia’s gateway communities — communities that border publicly owned lands such as national and state parks and forests — often struggle to balance the need for economic growth with the desire to protect their natural ecosystems, landscapes and cultural heritage.

For decades, local industry has relied on extracting Appalachia’s rich natural resources such as coal, timber and gas. Although these industries have historically provided a local job base, poverty has been a pervasive challenge in many Appalachian communities. In recent years the Appalachian region’s economy has become more diversified; yet, even with infusions of new types of industry, the region still does not reflect the economic status of the rest of the nation.

With programming that has included targeted technical assistance, community tourism assessments, tourism planning workshops, and small grants for project implementation, the AGCI focuses on communities that are entry points to some of Appalachia’s most important natural assets: national and state parks and forests. In addition to enhancing a community’s natural assets, the AGCI also emphasizes the role of the arts — particularly in revitalizing downtowns — in a comprehensive natural and cultural heritage tourism development strategy.


Our three-day regional workshops provide community teams with the skills to achieve sustainable economic development, cultural heritage and natural resource tourism, arts promotion, and preservation and stewardship of community character. Community teams have the opportunity to hear from national and regional experts, and develop specific action plans to take back to their communities. The 2022 offering of this workshop is scheduled for October 25-27, 2022 in Lake Junaluska, NC. Additional elements of the 2020 training program include both pre- and post-workshop webinars as well as specialized coaching for each team before, during, and after the workshop!


This 3-day workshop is designed for teams from gateway communities that have participated in the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative (AGCI) or are ready to implement new or ongoing community projects.  It is expected that each team will bring a specific community project or strategic plan related to sustainably capitalizing on natural and cultural heritage assets and/or the arts. This training was piloted in August of 2018.


Experts from The Conservation Fund and the National Trust for Historic Preservation visited communities that were selected through an RFP process to assess their community’s tourism strengths and assets and develop a preliminary tourism assessment and recommendations report.


A Webinar series on tools, topics, and issues facing gateway communities in the Appalachian Region is also being offering through the AGCI. Materials from past webinars are posted below. Information on upcoming webinars is coming soon!

“Narrative-based Planning” with Ted Eubanks, Fermata, Inc.

“Appalachia and the Arts”
 with Cheryl Hargrove of HTC Partners

“Transportation Connections: Highways, Communities, and Transit” with representatives from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Transit Authority (FTA), and ARC



Appalachian Gateway Communities “Survival Toolkit”