Collaborative aims at revitalization

November 12, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A collaborative of leaders in Bassett, Fieldale and adjoining communities has joined forces in hopes of creating a regional identiy and revitalizing its communities, said Nancy Cox, senior program officer of the Harvest Foundation.

The group hopes to create a “shared vision” of the region, though that process is in the early stages of development, Cox said. However, “each of these communities has great pride in their people and their heritage,” she added.

The communities also have a shared asset in the Smith River, she said. Developing a regional partnership will help provide opportunities to combine resources and make the communities a destination, according to Cox.

The collaborative — which is made up of community leaders such as Jeb Bassett and Bill Adkins, both of whom are co-chairs — plans to apply for state and other grant funds to help make the vision, once it is formed, a reality.

Group leaders will participate in an informational meeting tonight in Fieldale.

Cox; Jennifer Doss, director of tourism for the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.; and Brian Williams, program director of the Dan River Basin Association, are among the scheduled speakers at a program hosted by the Fieldale Heritage Festival.

The event, which will begin at 7 p.m. at Fieldale United Methodist Church, is open to the public.

Cox will provide an overview of the efforts of The Smith River Small Towns Collaborative, which was created by The Harvest Foundation in April and charged with developing a shared vision for the communities of Bassett, Stanleytown, Fieldale and Koehler.

Since its inception, the collaborative’s members have met regularly to work on creating the vision, mapping assets within a 15-mile area, branding a regional identity tied to the Smith River and focusing on community building for destination tourism, Cox said.

Titled “Fifteen Magical Miles,” the map includes information about annual events and places to eat as well as natural amenities and historic sites, Cox said. The map also will be used to help pinpoint amenities and assets that need to be developed for the communities to become tourist destinations, she said.

“We are working on the process now” in partnership with Henry County to apply for a planning grant from the state Department of Housing & Community Development, she said. A locality must apply for the grant funds.

Planning grants provide funds to plan projects before applications are submitted for funds to develop or complete the projects, Cox said. The planning grant would be a precursor “to hopefully obtaining Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds” that would be spent on projects in the 15-mile area identified in the map, she said.

Also, having a master plan would allow the collaborative to solicit help from other potential funding sources, including the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), tobacco commission, state Department of Tourism and other community or private foundations, Cox said.

Before the planning grant application will be considered, the collaborative must meet certain criteria required by the state, including visiting “two different areas in the state that have done similar things” to develop tourism, Cox said.

Work is progressing to meet the requirements, which also mandate holding a public meeting to seek residents’ input and share information, Cox said.

That meeting is anticipated to be held in early December, she said.


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