By LINDA COMINS , Wheeling Intelligencer

WHEELING – Appalachian Regional Commission officials visited Wheeling Thursday to unveil a new tourism tool, Civil War: The Home Front Map-Guide to Appalachia, designed to boost the economy and attract cultural heritage tourists to the 13-state region.

The national launch of the map-guide took place in the historic courtroom of West Virginia Independence Hall, birthplace of the 35th state. Participants noted that actions taken in the building in 1861-63 helped to preserve the Union and were pivotal to the nation’s fate in the Civil War.

Earl F. Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, said the map-guide “boosts tourism in Appalachia and also highlights great facilities,” such as West Virginia Independence Hall, which he called “a real gem.”

Developed for the 150th-anniversary commemoration of the American Civil War and to boost tourism in the region, the map-guide showcases the diversity of Appalachia’s Civil War heritage attractions. It offers “an enticement for tourists to visit these important places” remarked Travis Henline, the hall’s site manager.

Nineteen sites in the Mountain State, including West Virginia Independence Hall, the Belle Boyd House in Martinsburg, Harpers Ferry National Park, the Shepherdstown Historic District, the Philippi Covered Bridge and Historic Museum, the Rich Mountain battlefield, Jackson’s Mill Historic Site, Grafton National Cemetery, Fort Boreman Civil War Park, Burning Springs Park and the Ohio River Museum (Marietta, Ohio) are featured on the map-guide, created in partnership with American Heritage Publishing and the members of ARC’s Tourism Advisory Council. The map-guide’s 150 sites were selected from more than 500 nominations for destinations and stories.

The featured sites provide visitors with “a glimpse into the human element and human stories of life on the home front in the Civil War,” said Justin Gaull, marketing specialist for the West Virginia Division of Tourism. “We are happy to have this guide as a new piece to our information arsenal,” he added.

West Virginia sites are seeking cultural heritage tourists because they stay longer and spend more money than any other tourists, Gaull explained. A cultural heritage tourist spends an average of $944 per trip, compared to $611 spent by all other U.S. travelers, he said.

Explaining that the ARC’s mission is to create jobs, Gohl said the new map-guide is being distributed to promote heritage sites and provide opportunities for communities throughout the region. He remarked that the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is “a unique time in history” to offer this resource.

The commemorative map-guide is available as a free insert in the spring issue of American Heritage magazine. Copies have been distributed by the tourism offices of ARC’s 13 states to targeted traveler mailing lists, regional welcome centers and tourism trade shows. It also is available as an interactive feature online, where additional information specific to each Appalachian state is offered to travelers.

Observing that home front stories have been neglected, Edwin S. Grosvenor, editor-in-chief of American Heritage, said, “These are incredible stories … There are some amazing stories. It’s important that we get these stories out.” He added that home front stories can be used to teach the relevance of the Civil War.

The map-guide highlights heritage farms, railroads, restored houses, historic downtowns, national parks, memorials, living history museums and other attractions .

Todd Anderson, a representative of U.S. Sen Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., read a letter from the senator who said the new tool captures the historic significance and the tourism significance of the Civil War. “Preserving the history of our state and nation is vital to the cultural development of our country,” Manchin stated.

Flynn Altmeyer, a field representative for U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., read a statement from the congressman who saluted “this innovative tourism initiative” and commended the Appalachian Regional Commission for promoting tourism and economic development.

ARC officials said the cultural heritage tourism sector has been growing at twice the rate as the overall travel market, and Appalachia has six of the top 10 states most visited by travelers from this sector.