The opening of a major bridge on the Moonville Rail Trail is a quality additive toward Vinton County’s goal of building a tourism-based economy.

At the very least, tourism dollars should be a significant part of the county’s intended economy. The rural charm of the county, and the slow but steady growth of McArthur, combine well in this effort. The Moonville Tunnel is known around the world as there are 120 websites dedicated to its name. Much of the work here is done by the Moonville Rail Trail Association, the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and a host of private, public and volunteer partners. Vinton County borders the Hocking Hills region -- the Buckeye State's top tourist attraction -- and the tunnel is a star attraction.

There are stories, tall tales and reflections surrounding the Moonville Tunnel. They go back to the days when trains ran through the tunnel in the booming coal era. It is now considered a haunted place that draws visitors anxious to explore the past and learn for themselves what the folklore is all about. Vinton County officials are working on ideas to turn this interest into dollars for merchants to craft plans on how to develop the Zaleski area. Part of this effort has been successful through their website, www.vintoncountytravel.

Vinton County has the same attributes as Branson, Missouri, Brown County, Indiana, or Mt. Airy, North Carolina, as they have all built tourism-based economies in rural areas. The county has made great strides in this area. Ravenwood Castle, the cabin rentals, and the popularity of Lake Hope State Park are prime examples. Having a McDonald’s in the county since 2012 has also kept travelers from driving to other counties and has ushered traffic into McArthur. Many McArthur restaurants have had more business from tourists over the past few years.

Hopes For Rail Trail And Beyond

There is a strong possibility the Rail Trail will become a tourist destination. I believe growth in Zaleski would help it become a recurring destination and a one-trip wonder. To its credit, the Zaleski Village Council is working on informational packets to attract a gas station and convenience store to the village. In the past, there has been talk of developing an entertainment center which would be a space for musicians and other types of entertainment. Getting people to visit is one task but having them return is another. Vinton County is within a six-hour drive of millions of people, so the opportunity is there.

At this point, it is unclear how the county will keep going in its tourism-building effort. The CVB is currently pursuing a plan to purchase and renovate the Hotel McArthur property. It also explored trying to attract a motel chain to the McArthur area. Additionally, there have been rumors of RV parks and other developments that may come to the county in the future.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Whatever the future holds, the development and eventual completion of the Moonville Rail Trail is a boost for the county. I want to offer a Telegram “Tip of the Hat” for all the good work done and all that there is to come.