What is AFHA?
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 Heritage Area (AFHA) tells the story of this forest legacy and the mountain people who forged it.
The AFHA 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 AFHA 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.
AFHA: A National Heritage Area?
The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area (AFHA) is a regional, grassroots effort to integrate central Appalachian forest history, culture, natural history, products, and forestry management into a heritage tourism initiative to promote rural community development. Initially supported by a 4-year grant from USDA to West Virginia University (WVU) Division of Forestry and Extension Service, the effort is now implemented by a non-profit organization based on stakeholder partnerships. The goal is to create a sustainable Heritage Area based on forest heritage. Existing and potential forest-based historic sites, artisans, manufacturers, and working forests are being developed into a network of attractions providing high-quality products, programs, educational experiences, events, and visitor services.
Tourism is the third largest retail industry in America. Heritage tourism represents a promising strategy for economic diversification rooted in local traditions. The AFHA has a rich, complex history of timber harvesting, forest management and forest products. Major strides in forest health, productivity, management, and wood utilization have contributed to a vibrant natural resource-based economy and culture. Many visitors have little appreciation for the links among forestry practices, rural traditions, and sustainable economies.
To the degree that rural communities and local industries take pride in their traditions and stewardship, the long-term sustainability of West Virginia and western Maryland’s forest-dependent communities is more secure. Forest-related heritage tourism can fulfill the need for public education, thus contributing to an understanding of “good forestry.” Heritage tourism also fosters economic development consistent with local traditions and available resources.
Mission and Goals
The AFHA 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, including National Heritage Area designation.
- 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.
- AFHA 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.
- AFHA 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.
- AFHA 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.
- AFHA 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.
- AFHA utilizes cultural / heritage / nature tourism as a means to bring economic benefits to the AFHA 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 AFHA 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 AFHA, heritage area designation, or the management plan, unless they specifically choose to participate.
- AFHA is not a land management organization, and has no land management agenda. Designation of AFHA as a National Heritage Area will have no impact on private property within the area. AFHA has no power or authority, nor will it ever accept any such authority, to regulate, zone, or control private property use. AFHA cannot use federal funds to purchase land.