: Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel, second from left, presents a ceremonial check representing seed capital match grant funding to Stone Mountain Adventures LLC, owner Neil Walker. Also pictured are Tim Blankenbecler, director of the Mountain Empire Community College Small Business Development Center, left; and Beth Walker, kneeling, right.

Lebanon, VA (January 12, 2018) – Neil and Beth Walker have proactively worked with volunteer groups to help the region’s tourism industry as it grows and expands, but a few months ago, the Norton area couple took a leap of faith and decided to toss their own hats into the tourism ring. They began planning to open an outdoor adventure tourism company dedicated to helping tourists in the Wise County and Norton, Va., areas find their way and the equipment they need to bike, boat, kayak and tube to enjoy the great outdoors. Their new business, Stone Mountain Adventures, was recently approved by the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) for up to a $15,000 Seed Capital Matching Grant.

The dollar-for-dollar matching grants in the Seed Capital program are designed for businesses three years and under with less than 10 full-time employees. Applicants work with the Small Business Development Centers at Mountain Empire and Southwest Virginia community colleges to prepare the applications submitted to VCEDA for consideration. The Walkers worked with Tim Blankenbecler, director of the Small Business Development Center at Mountain Empire Community College.

“We plan to get things up and running in March,” says Neil Walker, noting the winter months are being used to get things set up. They have ordered an office building to house their new outfitter’s/touring company which will be located on property adjacent to the couple’s All Indoor Farm business in Norton, Va. A 15-passenger van and trailer on which to haul equipment are also in the process of being purchased.

“We have been really active in trying to get tourism built up in our area,” Neil says. “We decided to create Stone Mountain Adventures to fill a need in Wise County and the City of Norton to help people to get outdoors and explore the natural resources of our area. We saw that VCEDA had a seed capital matching grant program and our ideas of how to become a part of that industry morphed into the idea of starting Stone Mountain Adventures.”

The new company will offer the equipment needed for a variety of outdoor adventures in the Norton area, the transportation to get there and the guide – if desired — to ensure visitors experience what the Southwest Virginia outdoors have to offer.

Fourteen mountain bikes, available for rent in four-hour, eight-hour and all-day increments; three paddle boats; three pedal-powered Go-Karts, 14 kayaks; and 12 innertubes make up the equipment available. Guided tours are also available and include a guide for a four or eight-hour trip.

Initially, the company will have two contract labor employees and eventually, may have as many as four.

“We expect our primary customers will be people looking to get out into nature and have an adventure,” Walker says. “We will offer hiking, biking, kayaking and tube tours of local attractions like the Devil’s Bathtub, the Clinch and the Guest Rivers, Guest River Gorge, Appalachian Rail Trail, Little Stoney Falls, Flag Rock and High Knob.”

The VCEDA grant made it possible for the new company to get where it needs to be faster, says Beth Walker. “Instead of having to purchase things piecemeal, the VCEDA grant allows us to get ready to go faster,” she says. “It gave us the start-up expenses to get off the ground.”

While the new company does not yet have a website, it does have a Facebook page, found at “Stone Mountain Adventures LLC.”

“VCEDA was pleased to be able to approve the seed capital funding for the Stone Mountain Adventures project,” says Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel. “VCEDA has been supportive of a variety of tourism-related projects in recent years as our region diversifies its economy in this sector and pursues the many opportunities found in the development of tourism in the region.”

About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education and emerging technologies. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vaceda.org or www.e-Region.org.

About the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority Seed Capital Matching Grant Fund: VCEDA region for-profit businesses three years and under with less than 10 full-time employees are eligible to apply for dollar-for-dollar matching grants up to $10,000 from the VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Fund. Applicants work with the Small Business Development Centers at Mountain Empire and Southwest Virginia community colleges to prepare the applications to VCEDA that include detailed business and financial plans. Businesses must be located in or plan to operate in the VCEDA region in southwestern Virginia that includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton.