Nature-Oriented Tourism

the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail included Island 1 on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, until construction of a second Thimble Shoal tunnel closed that site in 2017
the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail included Island 1 on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, until construction of a second Thimble Shoal tunnel closed that site in 2017

If a community can define a niche, a "we are special because..." story, then it can attract the tourist dollar.

Virginia communities advertise their sandy Atlantic beaches, Appalachian mountain vistas, waterfalls, caves, free-flowing rivers, fish-filled reservoirs, hunting opportunities on forested hillsides, etc. Mother Nature provided Virginia only two lakes - so the first state parks simply created small man-made lakes to provide desirable, if not 100% natural, swimming and fishing holes.

Buggs Island Lake (Kerr Reservoir) shows what can be done if enough money is committed to reshape the land and rivers of Virginia. The reservoir is nearly as large as the District of Columbia, and the Southside town of Clarksville has more boat-oriented businesses than tobacco warehouses now.

There is a long tradition of hyping Virginia's natural areas to attract vacationers. Thomas Jefferson claimed that the vista from Harper's Ferry was worth a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, and that the Natural Bridge was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Perhaps the "Breaks" on the Virginia-Kentucky border are slightly less-impressive than the Grand Canyon or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, but if a park is well-advertised, plenty of tourists will go far off the beaten path to see for themselves.

Far, far off the beaten path, in that particular case. The Breaks is a destination, a place that requires a substantial effort to reach. It's not a place you see on the way to someplace else, or while in the neighborhood. Many of the visitors to Manassas battlefield are day-trippers exploring outside the monumental core of the national capital, but no one just casually drives over to see the Breaks.

The decline of the coal industry after the 1990's led Southwest Virginia to expand efforts to attract tourists. As noted by one observer, creating an outdoor-oriented lifestyle was also intended to maintain local economies by retaining the children born in the area:1

As Central Appalachia struggles to fill the void left by coal, southwest Virginia is taking a radical approach: revitalizing its economy by highlighting the natural assets of the area. Historically, natural resources in Appalachia have been mined, but southwest Virginia is trying to re-envision the hills, woods, and mountains of the state for outdoor tourism—and in the process, hold onto its younger residents...

...The area has increased access to and promotion of existing assets like the Clinch River through small organizations like the Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI) while staying away from creating additions that could be found elsewhere. This approach is a multifaceted one specifically anchored in an awareness that natural assets form just one piece of a larger economic puzzle in Appalachia — and this time around, there will be no reliance on a single, silver bullet industry.

There is a particular tension for those who seek to finance protection of a natural area via tourist-based revenues. Tourism, while relatively "green," is not completely benign.

To extract dollars from tourists, a site must offer more than a voluntary collection box. There must be a place to stay, a place to eat, a place to buy stuff, as well as something to see. Think there is a reason that those having to pay the bills are often interested more in facilities more than preserving the natural appearance of a site?

Birding trails, boardwalks, and campfire programs alone don't get the tourist dollars out of the wallets. Revenues come from food, lodging, and sales of T-shirts... and tourists expect to shop in air-conditioned facilities with water fountains, restrooms, and close-in parking. In particular, caves are sensitive to damage from excessive disturbance of bats and other sensitive creatures, spotlights that allow algae to grow on formations, and pollution from water draining off parking lots.

Conserving Land in Virginia

History-Oriented Tourism

Historic Tourism Related to Native Americans

Appalachian Trail improvements on the way to McAfee's Knob, west of Roanoke


wildflowers near Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park
wildflowers near Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park


1. Cinnamon Janzer, "Could Outdoor Tourism Keep Millennials in Appalachia?," Rewire, September 8, 2017 (last checked September 18, 2017)

Parks, Forests and Tourism
Virginia Places