Over the next few weeks, “adventure tourism” is a phrase that Scott Countians will hear often. Both Scott County and the Town of Huntsville are pushing to beat an April 15 deadline to establish adventure tourism districts.
This week’s lead story on page A1 is about adventure tourism (with features related to adventure tourism on pages B1 and B8). For an increasing number of adventure-seeking outdoors types, such as kayakers, mountain bikers and ATV riders, Scott County is a favored place to get off the beaten path and enjoy the slower pace of nature and all that nature has to offer. And from the Cumberland Mountains to the Big South Fork River, Scott County has much to offer in that regard.
But as adventure tourism is discussed in the coming weeks, it may be prudent to remember that adventure tourism isn’t just about ATVs. Off-road riding is a not-insignificant part of adventure tourism, sure. And when state Sen. Ken Yager authored the state’s Adventure Tourism & Rural Development Act in 2011 — the bill that opens the door for the creation of adventure tourism districts currently taking place — he did it with ATVs and Huntsville partially in mind.
But by the very definition of that law, adventure tourism includes much more than ATVs. Hiking, kayaking, rock-climbing, rappelling, equine trail-riding, even hunting and fishing, are forms of adventure tourism recognized by the state. Scott County offers opportunities for all those types of activities, and all have been included in the discussion of adventure tourism zones.
Nor is adventure tourism simply about establishing a way for ATV riders to circumvent state law. Part of the adventure tourism bill allows for certain roadways to be designated for ATV use with restrictions — ATVs must meet certain safety standards, such as being equipped with headlights that illuminate for 200 feet, riders must wear helmets and all speed limits and other traffic laws must be obeyed. But Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals, who appointed a nine-person adventure tourism committee to explore the possibilities of adventure tourism districts in Scott County, has stressed on more than one occasion — including to the Scott County Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors on Thursday — that the establishment of adventure tourism districts isn’t about allowing ATVs to “run wild” on the streets across Scott County.
Brandon Hughett, who chairs the Chamber’s tourism committee and is on the mayor’s adventure tourism committee, said Monday that adventure tourism is as much about the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area — where ATVs are not permitted, with very few exceptions, and never will be — as it is about the ATV-friendly areas closer to Huntsville.
Perhaps more than anything else, “adventure tourism” is about encouraging new business growth and jobs creation. ATVs play a role in that, but they don’t define it.
■ Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at email@example.com.