Seneca Rocks Regional Development Authority – New Partners in the Sustainable Recreation Economy

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March 29, 2024

Seneca Rocks in Fall

Seneca Rocks is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable locations in West Virginia, forming a striking silhouette against the backdrop of the landscape’s deep history. Yet, much like the geology that underlies this iconic spot, the landmark only scratches the surface of the region’s expansive bedrock of recreation. Spruce Knob – Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, comprising 100,000 acres, boasts a plethora of backpacking trails, top-tier climbing crags, and underground adventures that cater to all types of explorers- from first-timers to seasoned experts. Given the wide range of outdoor amenities and the tremendous potential for further recreational development, Grant and Pendleton Counties have come together to say the endlessly wild and wonderful Mon is a resource big enough to share.

Mon Forest Towns Reps walking in downtown Franklin after Quarterly Meeting with members of the Seneca Rocks Development Authority

Mon Forest Towns Reps Walking with members of the Seneca Regional Rocks Development Authority in Downtown Franklin after Quarterly Meeting

“Linking downtown locations to forest destinations”

2023 marked the establishment of the Seneca Rocks Regional Development Authority (SRRDA), a joint initiative to facilitate economic growth across the Monongahela’s eastern region. Much like the objectives of the Mon Forest Towns Partnership, the SRRDA plans to leverage the power of cooperation while recognizing and celebrating each county’s unique identity and independence.

The SRRDA has already made significant strides in its brief existence. It has facilitated two USDA Rural Development Grants totaling nearly $150,000 to establish an Innovation Hub in Franklin and expand Experience Learning’s Sweetwater Farm Trail System.

Experience Learning Yurts in Seneca Rocks - Spruce Knob Recreation Area

Located atop Spruce Knob, Experience Learning features Youth Camps, Kite Festivals, and Yurt Rentals

In addition to its grant-facilitation role, the Seneca Rocks Regional Development Authority has provided its own small-business grants to support a diverse ensemble of recreation-based operations, including the Trout Camp, Mountain Springs Motel, and Cool Hollow Maple Farm. The impact of continued investments in the expanding outdoor tourism market is especially evident in Petersburg, where, over the past 18 months, 21 new recreation-oriented businesses have emerged. Many of these businesses, such as The Heritage Inn & Taphouse and The Grove Cafe, go beyond providing employment opportunities and charming spaces for visitors and residents to gather. With assistance from the West Virginia Development Hub’s DARRE program, these enterprises are models for sustainable beautification- improving external appearances while preserving the Mon’s characteristic deeply rooted historical ambiance. In Franklin, 2024 brought a new coffee shop, Elevated Grounds, and revitalized Main Street apartments for young professionals looking for backyard adventures in the heart of Almost Heaven.

Sweetwater Farms Maple Taps in Franklin, WV

During Mountain State Maple Days, Cool Hollow Farms in Franklin, WV, Provides Demonstrations of their Environmentally Friendly Syrup-Making Process

While working to strengthen their economic ties, Grant and Pendleton are also engaging in collaborative efforts to develop and promote the different dimensions of recreation in the region. High atop Spruce Ridge, Appalachian Dirt and Trail Labs are continuing to grow the aforementioned Sweetwater Trail System, further solidifying the Mon’s position as a mountain biking mecca from all directions. Experience Learning’s 25+ miles of completed multi-use track complement the organizations existing array of educational programs, summer camps, and vacation rentals that draw individuals from around the world to the Mon’s mountain paradise.

Sweetwater Trails Map

Experience Learning’s Sweetwater Trail System Map

However, the trails at Sweetwater were not the only projects moving forward in 2023. After years of planning, the City of Petersburg received Army Corps of Engineers approval and $125,000 of Department of Highways funding for a 5.5-mile multi-use downtown trail network. This accessible riverfront route stretching along Smoke Hole Road marks a significant milestone in the Mon Forest Towns Partnership’s efforts to link downtown locations to forest destinations.

Bike tourism may be a media focal point throughout the Mon, but the counties are equally committed to diversifying avenues for public engagement with the outdoors. The recent passage of West Virginia House Bill 3560, drafted and endorsed by our partners at WVU’s Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, promises to elevate the area’s robust rock tourism by addressing private landowners’ liability concerns. Climbers can already enjoy some of the best routes in the eastern United States at Seneca Rocks, N-Rocks’ Via Ferrata, and the neighboring Smoke Hole Recreation Area or learn the ropes at Seneca Rocks Climbing School.

Climbers on rope bridge at Nelson Rocks in Pendleton County

Rock Climbers Cross Bridge at N-Rocks, Photo Courtesy of West Virginia Tourism

For those who prefer digging into history, a grant from the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area (AFNHA) is similarly expanding the scope of heritage tourism, encouraging visitors to travel through the age of the bison to early settlement, the Civil War to the lumber years, all in a days drive. If your ideal vacation involves smooth spirits, the On the Rocks Craft Beverage Trail offers everything from sweet apple ciders to maple syrup moonshine.

Calling on their vast reservoir of outdoor activities and substantial economic momentum, Pendleton and Grant counties set out in 2023 to spread the word. Partnering with New South Media, the CVBs launched a series of wide-reaching social media campaigns that utilized prominent outdoor influencers and professional photographers to craft a striking introduction to the adventures that await in our quiet mountain towns. The distribution of comprehensive adventure guides, both online and in print, serves as a capstone for the initiative, providing visitors with an easy-to-follow Almost Heaven agenda.

As Mon Forest Towns strives to connect communities, our members inspire us as models for interdependence. From the heart of downtown to the center of the forest, we are walking the path to a sustainable recreation economy together. Seneca Rocks is worth the climb and even better when you share the view.