Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 6, 2013

Not a pity party

Tour of distressed counties will put accent on positive

The Independent

ASHLAND — Organizers of an upcoming motor coach tour through some of Kentucky’s “distressed counties” insist it will not be a pity tour that emphasizes the many problems and shortcomings of the rural counties. Instead, it is intended to offer glimpses of reasons to be hopeful and be a celebration of Appalachian culture.

The two-day tour will be  Friday and Saturday with stops in Carter, Elliott, Menifee, Wolfe and Morgan counties.

“It’s a tour trying to show the world what Appalachia is all about, our lifestyles, products, foods — everything,” said Michelle Wallace of Carter County, who serves as treasurer for Foothills Eco-Agri Tourism, or FEAT, and team leader for Elliott County. “What we see as common is not so common for a person from the outside. We want people to experience our beauty and nature. We always say we’ve got what Pigeon Forge started out with, mountains and trees and hillsides and beauty. They have, of course, become such a destination spot. We want to share Appalachia with the rest of the world.”

In short, the tour will be far different from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s one-day trip to eastern Kentucky in 1964 to launch the War on Poverty. That trip was intended to emphasize the rural poverty of Appalachia and show the worst aspects of this region. In sharp contrast, the upcoming tour will accent the positive.

“This is such an odd tour. Our FEAT members will be at some of the different stops where they will set up with Appalachian wares from baskets to custom knives to paintings and artwork pieces, just whatever it is in our five counties they make,” Wallace said, explaining the event was originally conceived as a bus tour through the five counties with an emphasis on agritourism.

“It started as ag, but there were more who wanted things like the basket girl and others who were working with their hands. It’s still a handmade item,” Wallace said, noting FEAT now has 60 members, with members helping each other with business concerns such as sales taxes, social networking and eBay sales, “so they can focus on crafting. We help each other.”

The tour has been divided into two parts so participants will have options.

“Some people just wanted a day trip, so they’ll spend the whole day in Carter County with us Friday,” Wallace said, noting the tour will begin in Grayson and wrap up with a hayride to Rock Springs Winery with a wine-tasting, dinner, stories and a showcase of local arts and crafts.

Two-day tourists will then travel to Sandy Hook and spend the night at the Little Sandy Lodge, starting the second day the next morning with a country breakfast at the Laurel Gorge Heritage Center, where they can browse the museum of Appalachian History and see memorabilia from the late country musician Keith Whitley. The cultural heritage center also features a quilt expo and storytelling during the tour. With more storytelling set at a barn along the quilt trail, the tour continues to Caney Valley Antiques General Store, which was built in 1937 and features seven rooms of antiques. The day concludes with entertainment including a performance of “Mountain Memories” by the Menifee County Community Players and a boxed dinner from Rains Confection.

While many local counties are labeled by the government as “distressed,” Wallace said FEAT members have found an excellent business and working community throughout the region. “As one business owner, I can’t do much to promote tourism. But, if I work with 60 other business owners with the same mindset, with those kind of numbers we can accomplish something,” she said.

 For information about the tour, visit ekfeat.com on the Internet or call Gayle Clevenger at (606) 738-5565.

The tour comes just two weeks after a similar two-day tour of locations in Boyd and Lawrence counties that proved quite popular. While the tours are different in scope, both provide  people to see this region in a different, more positive light.

We like the concept. We have all heard the horror stories about poverty in this regin and we know its many shortcomings. Sometimes that’s all people from elsewhere know about this region and it promotes ridicule and unfair stereotypes. Like the one in Lawrence and Boyd counties, this week’s tour of Carter, Elliott, Menifee, Wolfe and Morgan counties will emphasize the many good things about this region and its people. That’s just what is needed.