CGRTA hosts 4th annual Region Strong Awards

Published 1:14 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Cumberland Gap Regional Tourism (CGRTA), Association held its fourth annual Region Strong Awards ceremony recently at the LMU Lincoln Library and Museum.

CGRTA consists of following 10 counties in the Cumberland Gap Region: Whitley, Knox, Bell, Harlan, Lee, Hancock, Grainger, Claiborne, Union and Campbell. Each county received an award for different types of accomplishments made in the area of tourism.

Director of CGRTA Carl Nichols said that each member of the board selected people from each of the 10 counties who have done something for the improvement of their community to promote tourism.

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“We’re all working to build the region and improve the region so that our ultimate goal is to make this a vacation destination,” said Nichols. He added that strong communities make strong counties, and strong counties make a strong Cumberland Gap Region.

Bell County received two different awards. Joanie Jasper was recognized for work as Middlesboro Main Street Executive Director. Pineville received an award in four categories: natural beauty, music, art, and Appalachian experience. The Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival 2021 Director Jacob Roan and 2022 Director Ashley Sizemore were presented this award for their outstanding effort to make this festival a tourism destination in Bell County. Nichols said that many consider the KMLF being the second biggest event in the state of Kentucky, only behind the Kentucky Derby.

Claiborne County received one award in the category of art, history, and Appalachian experience. Doug and Jennifer Seals, owners of Pickers Paradise, received a Region Strong award. They are now known worldwide for their two seasons staring in Netflix’s Original Series “Swap Shop”. Their new shop will be located in the old indoor flea market in New Tazewell on Main Street.

The 2021 Presidential Award went to Kimberly Kotlar. Kotlar and her husband are the owners of the Old Mill Bed and Breakfast located in Cumberland Gap.

Harlan County received two awards. The first award was in the categories of art, music, natural beauty, history, and Appalachian experience. The Polk Sallet Festival won this award and was presented to Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley and Brandon Pennington. The Kentucky-at-Large Representative Laura Adkisson said the Harlan County Beer Company will be opening its doors this summer. The second award was given for all six categories: history, natural beauty, music, art, adventure, and Appalachian experience. Director of Kingdom Come State Park Sherry Cornett was presented an award. Nichols said Cornett has turned a little know state park into a tourist destination during her time as park manager and director.

The Town of Cumberland Gap was presented an award for the Guardians of the Gap. It was nominated in the categories of art, history, music, and Appalachian experience. Kimberley Kotlar accepted the awards on behalf of the Guardians.

Lee County received two awards. The first award was in the categories of natural beauty, adventure, and Appalachian experience. Pennington Gap’s Office Manager and Tourism Marketing Agent Karen Maggard was presented an award for her efforts in building tourism in Air B&B’s, an RV park, and welcome center. The second award was presented to Wilderness Road State Park Director Bill Heck. The award was made in all six categories. After moving Martin’s Station and opening up the living history program, Martin’s Station is now considered to be the most authentic reconstructed frontier in all of America.

Dr. Gary Burchette received the 2022 Bill McGaffee Memorial Region Strong Award.

“The things that are going on in this 10 county region, Pineville for example, I mean all the new stuff coming in to downtown Pineville. Harlan is getting ready to burst out all over, tourism is becoming the thing that is going to save this entire region,” said Nichols.