The4th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism was held on Thursday, September 18, 2008, at 1:00 PM, at Camp Robert C. Webb, Grayson, Kentucky. Senator Alice Forgy Kerr, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Alice Forgy Kerr, Co-Chair; Representative Eddie Ballard, Co-Chair; Senators Julie Denton, Denise Harper Angel, and Gary Tapp; Representatives Larry Belcher, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, Mike Denham, Ted Edmonds, Jim Gooch Jr., Keith Hall, Mike Harmon, Melvin B. Henley, Dennis Horlander, Joni L. Jenkins, Dennis Keene, Thomas Kerr, Adam Koenig, Tom McKee, Brad Montell, Ruth Ann Palumbo, Don Pasley, Dottie Sims, Ancel Smith, John Will Stacy, Robin L. Webb, Ron Weston, and Addia Wuchner.
Guests: Dr. Jonathan Gassett, Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; Bill Burger, Special Assistant to the Lieutenant Governor, Office of the Lieutenant Governor; Virginia Grulke, Executive Director, Kentucky Horse Council and Chairperson, Kentucky Recreational Trails Authority; Rick Allen, President, League of Kentucky Sportsmen; Debby Spencer, Director of Tourism and Development, WMTH Corporation; and Matt Osborne, Director of Adventure Tourism, Office of the Secretary, Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.
LRC Staff: John Buckner, Committee Staff Administrator; Karen Armstrong-Cummings; Louis Pierce; and Dawn Johnson.
A quorum being present, the meeting was called to order. A motion and second by Senator Denton and Representative Belcher to approve the minutes of the August 21, 2008, meeting passed by voice vote. Chairman Ballard thanked Representative Webb and Department of Fish and Wildlife staff for coordinating the meeting at Camp Webb. Representative Webb welcomed everyone to the facility. She explained that Camp Webb was her father’s, the late Dr. Robert C. Webb, legacy. Formerly an elementary school scheduled for destruction, Dr. Webb was instrumental in preserving the area and turning it into the state’s third junior conservation camp.
Senator Kerr introduced Dr. Jonathan Gassett, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). Dr. Gassett explained that a significant amount, approximately $13 million per year, of their funding comes from an excise tax on the sale of ammunition, guns, fishing equipment, boats, etc. The mission of KDFWR through its strategic plan is to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife resources and provide opportunities for hunting, fishing, boating, trapping, and other wildlife related activities. Dr. Gassett said adventure tourism would help KDFWR achieve its mission and strategic plan objectives through funding mechanisms by increasing multi-use access areas for recreational activities throughout the state. KDFWR has been the original adventure tourism agency for 96 years. He noted that fish and wildlife activities have a state economic impact of approximately $4.7 billion annually.
Dr. Gassett explained that the greatest obstacle to outdoor recreation activities is overcoming limited private land access. One of the agency’s goals is to increase land holdings within 50 miles of the “golden triangle” by 10 percent in six years. He noted that 94 percent of Kentucky’s land and water are privately owned. Seventy-three percent of Kentucky’s 75 wildlife management areas were purchased with Wildlife Restoration Funds paid for by the excise tax; however, 78 percent of users of these areas are nonhunters. Dr. Gassett explained that there are land usage restrictions on land purchased with federal funds. Many wildlife management areas are leased or under cooperative agreement with the Corp of Engineers, private coal and timber companies. Dr. Gassett said part of First Lady Jane Beshear and Lieutenant Mongiardo’s plan includes the possibility of having a user-pay system similar to KDFWR’s He added that KDFWR strongly supports Senate Bill (SB) 196. He said KDFWR has the resources and actively pursues land purchasing and can help promote access to recreation areas. Language in SB 196 allows KDFWR law enforcement rights on adventure tourism sites. The can also assist with technical guidance such as habitat formation and trail building. He noted that the infrastructure already exists in collecting user fees. They are currently working with the Kentucky Recreational Trails Authority to assist with regulation promulgation.
Responding to Representative Edmonds’ question, Bill Burger said the licensing fee of newly purchased ATVs collected by the county court clerks will cease because it is not uniformly collected or required statewide. Statutory language would be needed to continue collecting this fee and to keep track of the sale of ATVs within the state.
Responding to Representative Edmonds’ question Secretary Gassett said that KDFWR officers have full policing powers including enforcement of traffic laws, however, they are encouraged to specifically focus on Chapters 150 and 235--boating, fish and game laws.
Responding to Representative Stacy’s question Commissioner Gassett said approximately 90 percent of hunting occurs on private land while a majority of fishing is on public land. Representative Stacy said that, while not common knowledge, KDFWR will help private landowners improve their wildlife habitats. Commissioner Gassett said the service is available to all private landowners not just those who allow public access as it improves overall wildlife habitat.
Representative Hall commented that West Virginia has been economically successful in selling access passes to their trail system through small towns rather than large retail businesses or online. Commissioner Gassett added that this includes the Hatfield-McCoy Trail.
Next, Mr. Bill Burger, Special Assistant to the Lieutenant Governor said adventure tourism has gained a lot of public interest and their goal includes global marketing. He said the state needs to utilize its beauty and natural resources in a responsible way. The 23-member Kentucky Recreational Trails Authority (KRTA) held their first meeting and will create separate work groups of members and grassroots organizations as well. The KRTA is currently inventorying the state trail system and other adventure tourism activities using a multilayer GIS system as well as an interactive website that allows trail users to assist via GPS. Per SB 196, an MOA with Morehead State University was obtained to study the effects of ATV trespassing to be submitted to the LRC by mid-December. Also, the University of Kentucky is conducting a safety study for a workgroup of the KRTA understand causes of injuries and to develop proactive preventive measures. The KRTA is working on an adventure tourism master plan that will include all positive trail features including the information gathered through GPS to identify potential routes across the state. There are region-specific adventure tourism development issues with lakes, streams, and rivers. A trail is in progress that will enable the majority of the state to be traveled by horseback, hiking, or biking in time for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. Mr. Burger said the KRTA would like to see the Economic Development Cabinet and the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet provide incentives to individuals who want to increase the economic engines of their communities through adventure tourism.
Representative McKee expressed concern that Kentucky ranked first in ATV fatalities in recent years and asked whether the state had a higher number of ATVs in operation. Mr. Burger said the majority of deaths occurred on roadways with people not wearing helmets. Approximately 60 percent of accidents involve alcohol usage. He said training and education is a top priority for the KRTA in reducing the number of ATV deaths. Representative McKee encouraged committee members to see the Department of Agriculture’s farm and ATV safety presentation.
Virginia Grulke, Executive Director, Kentucky Horse Council (KHC) and Chairperson of the Kentucky Recreational Trails Authority said the Kentucky Horse Council represents 3,000 to 4,000 members, 77 percent who trail ride. KHC is funded through the sale of the state’s horse license plate. The KHC represents the non-race portion of the horse industry. She said that although Kentucky is known for horse racing, only 25 to 30 percent of horses in Kentucky are used for such. Nationally, recreational riding contributes $31 billion to the economy or 32 percent of total impact. She said trail riding is increasing in part to due to retiring baby boomers. Many are moving to Kentucky because of Kentucky’s reputation in the equine industry, the affordability of rural land, the state’s central location, and temperate climate. She said riders travel through Kentucky to ride in Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio--states that recognized the benefits of trail riding several years ago.
Ms. Grulke said the four requirements for horseback trail riding are the trails themselves and related signage, hospitality services, promotion, and a ready market. She said the main challenge is the lack of public lands. Access to private land has to be a key issue and SB 196 was a big step in this direction. She stressed that signage is key to horseback riders. It is difficult to maneuver trucks and trailers on country roads, therefore, signage is critical. On trails, signage for distances, points of interest and trail intersections is essential. For a robust horse trail economy there is also a need for good hospitality services. Riders look for horse camps, trail guides, on sight services, catering, music and entertainment which are opportunities for new business in the state. Bed and barn is a new business concept for agricultural farmers.
Ms. Grulke said increased promotion is needed by adding more horse photographs in Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet promotional items as well as advertising in Trail Rider and other equestrian magazine. She noted that America by Horseback is interested in featuring Kentucky’s trails. She said the state needs to target regional and national trail rider associations to move their organized national rides to Kentucky. She noted that the American Endurance Ride Conference has several national rides around the country. She said the American Quarter Horse has a large trail ride scheduled in Taylorsville this year.
Ms. Grulke said, according to Trail Rider magazine, demographically riders are 71 percent female, 25 percent have a net work of over $500,000, 40 percent are in their 50s, 20 percent are over 60, 77 percent live in the country, 45 percent own 20 acres or more, 43 percent have living quarters with their horse trailers, and 80 percent go somewhere with their horses every month. Forty percent of all trail riders in the U.S. are in Kentucky and its surrounding states.
Ms. Grulke said examples of successful adventure tourism initiatives include Big South Fork of Tennessee with 129 miles of hiking trails and 156 miles of horse trails that contribute $10 million annually to local economies, Iowa’s 26-mile trail which contributes $1.2 million annually, Florida’s 16 mile St. Marks Trail, contributing $1.9 million, and Pennsylvania’s Great Allegheny Passage whose impact in 1998 was $14 million. Ms. Grulke noted that some of these trails are multi-use. She said national branding of “Horse Capital of the World” and “Unbridled Spirit is already in place. Horseback riding is a green economy and disturb the wildlife less than other types of recreation.
Responding to Co-Chair Kerr’s question Ms. Grulke said carriage accessible trails are increasing and they are looking for ways to increase the number. Mr. Burger added that the adventure tourism initiative is looking toward the national Rails to Trails Program which will allow for carriage use. The state is currently working on acquiring 36 miles of rail through Magoffin, Johnson and Breathitt Counties from R.J. Corman Railroad Group.
Representative Edmonds said the funds exist to purchase the 36-mile Dawkins Line in Breathitt, Magoffin, and Johnson Counties to include in the Rails to Trails program but they need to overcome the safety concern of nearby residents.
Representative Harmon asked how the state can offer limited liability to landowners under the constitution’s prohibition of limiting the ability to seek restitution. Mr. Burger said he would inquire and get back with the committee.
Representative Webb said a legal analysis was done during the drafting of HB___ that she would be glad to share. She noted the tax credit easement bill drafted with the Department of Fish and Wildlife that provide incentives to landowners for access arrangements of land use.
Representative Wuchner said the horse network is a great volunteer network for clearing and maintain trails reducing the cost to the state, communities, and landowners. Ms. Grulke added that the Horse Authority is considering an “Adopt a Trail” program for trail maintenance.
Next, Rick Allen, President of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen explained that the League, created in 1935, is the oldest sportsman association in the state and was instrumental in developing legislation that created the Department of Fish and Wildlife. He said the League supports adventure tourism and would like to be involved in the development process. He said the possibility of gaining more access to private fishing waters and more hunting ground is important to the sportsmen of Kentucky. Mr. Allen said Minnesota and Wisconsin have highly successful programs similar to what Kentucky envisions. He said the trails are well maintained and it is a well managed program. When creating Kentucky’s program the League asks that sensitive wildlife areas be identified upfront and protected. Mr. Allen noted that the League has a representative on the KRTA board.
Next, Debby Spencer explained that WMTH Corporation works with communities on economic development through tourism. Ms. Spencer said Knott County’s program has developed quickly. Their goal is to create a countywide adventure tourism parks system. Currently, they have four ATV trails and four horseback riding trails. They also have a publicly accessible elk-viewing area open 24/7. Ms. Spencer said two local entrepreneurs offer saddle-up elk tours for elk viewing via horseback. Also, Knott County built a skate park and will construct a snow tubing and snowboarding area next year. She noted that Indiana’s snow tubing business has 60,000 visitors annually. Ms. Spencer said Knot County built an ATV safety training center, one of five in the United States. It includes basic safety as well as a skills test area with miscellaneous surfaces and hills and includes beginners through advanced trails. She said the training center is used as a trailhead for horseback riding and ATVs and is a major site for elk viewing. It is specifically designed to allow all three activities. There are 43,000 acres with over 100 miles of horseback riding trails on reclaimed coal land. There is a full-time employee to police trails.
Ms. Spencer said she is also working in Clay and Breathitt counties developing motorcycle trails using the road system, and horse riding and bird watching trails and is developing a canoeing program in Warren County.
Matt Osborne, Director of Adventure Tourism with the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet outlined the Cabinet’s activities in adventure tourism. They are working to create an inventory and to promote the existing trails in the state including traditional hiking, mountain biking, equine, and ATV trails as well as road bike trails and the Blueways. They are being mapped using GPS and GIS technology with the Office of Technology. The Cabinet is working to promote and create new opportunities for all outdoor recreation activities including rock climbing, fishing, hiking, hunting, horse riding, caving, and wildlife viewing. A master plan is being developed in coordination with existing inventory to create the optimal routes for a cross-Kentucky trail system. The KTRA will enter into partnerships with local governments and private land owners to create a multi-use trail system. The master plan will take into consideration aspects such as the aesthetic quality of a trail, as well as the environmental and economical impacts to the state. They are also studying the effects of trespassing by ATVs on both private and forbidden public lands to conclude the best ways to enforce current laws and prevent trespassing in the future. The agency is also creating a universal signage program for the trail system and highways to direct tourists to trailheads and other outdoor recreation activities. Mr. Osborne said they are developing a marking strategy to best promote the current and future outdoor recreation opportunities in the state to include a strategic communications plan as well as a merchandising plan for brand awareness.
Responding to Representative Clark’s question, Mr. Osborne said the urban centers of the state are leaders in outdoor recreation activities. Louisville is creating a trail and parks system that circumvents the city and contains over 100 miles of hiking and biking trails. He noted that this is the goal of the statewide master plan.
Representative Ballard asked if the western Kentucky coal companies were being responsive to state and local efforts. Ms. Spencer said they are just beginning to work with them in several counties in developing ATV trails and several horseback riding trails.
There being no further business the meeting adjourned at 2:45 PM.