Small Town, Big Ideas
Virginia Municipal League names St. Paul top achiever
for towns with populations under 5,000
October 8, 2014
by Stephen Igo, Kingsport Times News
ST. PAUL — No small town in all of Virginia has done better to make the most of what it's got than St. Paul, according to the Virginia Municipal League.
During its recently concluded annual conference in Roanoke, the VML named its 2014 Virginia Municipal League Awards across a variety of population categories, the smallest being 5,000 and under.
St. Paul is well under 5,000, with a population of 997 souls, but stands as a shining example to larger and wealthier burgs across the commonwealth to make the most of what you have, and run with it.
In the VML's September issue of Virginia Town & City magazine with articles on each of the 2014 Achievement Awards municipalities by population category, the VML practically gushed over St. Paul's determination to move beyond an eroding coal-based economy into an eco-future.
The magazine noted things began in 2005 with a group of town officials and volunteers calling themselves St. Paul Tomorrow "to become a model of positive ecologically responsible economic development," devising a three-point strategic plan to be a model for environmentally friendly downtown revitalization, promote nature-based tourism, and promote business development opportunities compatible with the town's image.
"St. Paul has since been a leader in creating a new tourism industry that will benefit the entire region," the magazine observes. "The town government has developed a master plan adding a fourth strategy, 'Establish St. Paul as an educational ecological epicenter.'"
The VML provides a laundry list of initiatives and accomplishments toward that end since 2005, ranging from a St. Paul trailhead for the Mountain View ATV Trail and the privateers of Clinch River Adventures tubing and kayaking venture, but to establish St. Paul "as a tourism hub for outdoor adventure didn't happen overnight," the League notes.
"In 2010 the town began the process of granting the historic Blue Bell Island and surrounding area to The Nature Conservancy to protect the island and a planned hiking trail well into the future. Last summer, a cadre of volunteers cleared the trail and spread gravel," and the result is a 10-mile trail that begins and ends in town limits that connects the Blue Bell Island Preserve to the established Oxbow Lake and Sugar Hill Loop Trail.
The town's adoption of an ATV-friendly ordinance in 2011 was a huge step among many — with emphasis on many, the VML said.
"It was not a single action or project that transformed the town into a popular tourism venue," said the League, "but instead a conglomerate of plans and projects inspired by a forward-thinking town government, a determined group of volunteers and regional cooperation."
When a good town gets down, the League said its good people get up and going, and the 997 of St. Paul certainly did.
"Through countless hours of volunteerism, persistence and a profound determination of community leaders with a defined plan," reads the achievement award article, "the big ideas and dreams of transforming a small community into a viable tourism center has culminated in the past year.
"In 2005, St. Paul had only a vision, but in 2014 it has nine new businesses — six related to outdoor recreation — new recreational facilities, and busy streets once again."