New funding would connect Devil’s Fork, Flag Rock and Big Cherry Reservoir

SCOTT COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9) announced the recommendation of millions in funding for projects in Southwest Virginia Friday, including $2 million slated for a regional trail and camping system.

According to a release from the governor’s office, eight new projects were recommended for funding through the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) program. Virginia Energy, the state agency over the grants, said the federal funds are administered by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE).

The first project listed in the governor’s announcement outlines work around the Big Cherry Reservoir.

In a map attached to the Town of Big Stone Gap’s application, several project sites are scattered throughout the area. (Photo/Town of Big Stone Gap)

Duane Miller with regional development organization LENOWISCO said the project will serve to connect the region’s assets and will provide much-needed recreational lodging.

“One of the big things about it that makes it so exciting is it’s a true regional project,” Miller said. “It’s titled the Big Cherry project, and Big Stone Gap is certainly one of the main components, but it also involves Scott County, Wise County and the City of Norton.”

The largest part of the project’s projected $2M price tag is a luxury camping area that hugs the waters of Big Cherry Reservoir. Seven loft safari tents are proposed for the site alongside a bathhouse, ‘sweet smelling’ toilets and individual boat piers for luxury sites.

The Adria safari cabins slated for Big Cherry would feature a two beds, a full bathroom and galley cooking area. (Photo/Town of Big Stone Gap)

A general store and additional trails connecting to the Devil’s Bathtub trail system are also in the plan, which Big Stone Gap town manager Stephen Lawson said would create a new waypoint for hikers in the region and offer a new starting point for trips to local landmarks.

At the traditional starting point of the Devil’s Fork loop in Scott County, the funds would create eight primitive campsites with upgraded utilities. Those sites could open the trail to new overnight use that wasn’t previously possible.

If the project is approved by OSMRE and work begins, the application predicted that work would take around a year for initial trail and campsite construction to be completed. After that, the application lays out another year of work to complete the Big Cherry general store.

Norton’s Flag Rock is also slated to receive a camping area complete with yurts and a cabin.

If the $2 million goes through as regional leaders expect, Miller said another $300,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Commission will be approved as well.

“We also anticipate applying to other funding sources both state and federal,” Miller said. “But we really have what we need now to get the project started.”

In terms of economic impact, Lawson projected around $90,000 in first-year revenue based on very conservative estimates of traffic to the sites. Citing a state study that showed consistent wait times for yurts and cabins at Natural Tunnel, Lawson said the region could capture significant numbers of guests as well.