New River Gorge Wayfinding Team

Set to Commission a Wayfinding Assessment by End of the Year

Beckley, W.Va. (July 11, 2023) – The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority
(NRGRDA), alongside partners throughout the region, is focusing efforts on maximizing
community and economic development opportunities in Gateway Communities to the New
River Gorge National Park and Preserve. A regional wayfinding team coordinated by NRGRDA
plans to commission a New River Gorge Regional Wayfinding Assessment later this year by
Downstream Strategies, a West Virginia firm that “strengthens economies, sustains healthy
environments, and builds resilient communities.”

Regional wayfinding will direct visitors to recreational assets, cultural resources, local
businesses, and amenities while they travel through Gateway Communities in the New River
Gorge Region. Regional collaboration and branding will support the region’s communities in
leveraging economic development and small business creation. Corey Lilly, Director of Outdoor
Economic Development with the City of Beckley said “the implementation of a New River Gorge
regional brand and wayfinding system holds immense significance, as it not only fuels economic
prosperity but also unites the local gateway communities, foster stronger bonds, camaraderie,
and a shared sense of pride in the region’s natural beauty, world class outdoor recreation, and
cultural heritage.”

The New River Gorge wayfinding team is meeting regularly following its participation in the
Appalachia Gateway Communities Initiative (AGCI) workshop, held October 22-24, 2022 in Lake
Junaluska, North Carolina. AGCI is sponsored through a partnership between the Appalachian
Regional Commission and The Conservation Fund.
New River Gorge wayfinding team members include:

o Christy Bailey: Executive Director, National Coal Heritage Area Authority
o Anne Cavalier: Mayor, City of Smithers
o Andy Davis: Director of Strategic Redevelopment, NRGRDA
o Christine Kinder: Extension Educator, West Virginia State University 
o Corey Lilly: Director, Outdoor Economic Development Office, City of Beckley
o Rebecca Peterson: Executive Director, Explore Summers County
o Allison Smith: Grants and Impact Manager, NRGRDA
o Andy Steel: GIS Specialist, National Park Service 
o Stacy Thomas: Community Coaching Programs Coordinator, West Virginia
Community Development Hub
o Beach Vickers: SPARKS Director, City of Smithers

By January 2024, NRGRDA and the team will have in hand a report that outlines the steps for
establishing a regional wayfinding system. “Our communities around the new national park are
like the spokes of a wheel with the park at the hub. Our goal is to cooperate to lay out the
welcome mat for visitors and direct them to the park, while letting them know we have a lot
more to offer in southern West Virginia to enhance and extend their stay here. Everybody
wins,” said Beach Vickers, SPARKS Director with the City of Smithers.
The report will include the core elements of a regional wayfinding system; present the overall
process and steps; identify high-level gaps in existing regional signage, with basic
recommendations for how to address those gaps; explore the Mon Forest Towns Partnership as
a case study; provide budget estimates for implementing each step of the regional-scale
wayfinding system; and identifies potential funding streams the regional wayfinding team and
partners can pursue for implementation.

Since attending the AGCI workshop, the group has secured $6,250 in combined grant funding
and donations from the National Coal Heritage Area Authority and Explore Summers County.
The funds will be used to retain Downstream Strategies for the establishment of a Wayfinding

Assessment for the New River Gorge Region. “The gateway communities to the New River
Gorge National Park and Preserve, like Smithers, are rich with beauty and are investing in
interesting attractions for friends visiting from around the world.  These attractions are the
parts to our new economic engine, holding promise of new businesses and jobs; but you often
need to hunt for these gems, and wayfinding provides the treasure map allowing visitors to
come to us and for us to provide unique experiences,” said Anne Cavalier, Mayor of the City of
Jina Belcher, NRGRDA executive director, said the wayfinding assessment is a critical next step
for the region. She said the report will help leverage additional funding to support future
updates, including branding, sign design, and wayfinding installation.