The hard work of Associate Professor John McGee of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation and Associate Professor Nancy McGehee of the Pamplin College of Business on an effort to promote tourism in the Rocky Knob area of the Blue Ridge Parkway has paid off. The project provided the foundation and traction for a recent land purchase near the Rocky Knob Recreation Area.

The property, which straddles Floyd and Patrick counties, was unveiled at a Sept. 22 ribbon-cutting ceremony. Plans for the site include establishing hiking trails, outdoor education centers, and a visitor center to highlight the area’s history and its cultural and natural resources.

“It was very rewarding to work on a project that focused on sustainability right here in our own backyard,” stated McGehee.

McGee and McGehee, along with three researchers from Clemson University, received a $266,000 grant in July 2008 from the National Park Service and Blue Ridge Heritage Inc. For almost two years, the group worked with students, community members, and project stakeholders to create a tourism marketing plan that would enhance the Rocky Knob area’s appeal and create a positive economic impact.

“This project could certainly be used as a showcase for community and student engagement,” explained McGee. “Local stakeholders provided university researchers with local perspectives, knowledge, and data that were paramount to the success of the project.”

McGee and McGehee’s portion of the project benefitted from McGee’s expertise in the use of geospatial technologies for government and business planning, as well as McGehee’s expertise in rural tourism development, particularly entrepreneurship and community capacity building.

“It’s always a bit of a leap of faith to work on an interdisciplinary, multi-university team, but this group was wonderful to work with,” said McGehee. “Our mutual passion for the project made for a great learning experience that was also a lot of fun.”