Committee members will advise on trail’s themes, featured content and other aspects of the project throughout its development

Plans for an African American heritage walking trail continue to move forward, and organizers are seeking local residents to serve on an advisory committee for the project.

Asheville’s African American Heritage Trail will connect historic Black communities in and around downtown Asheville, presenting sites and stories ranging from well-known landmarks visible in the community today to the unsung heroes and underrecognized achievements and contributions by the Black community in the past.

The trail’s advisory committee will provide insight and recommendations on the direction of the project throughout the development process including trail themes, route, design and featured content. Committee members will also serve as connectors, promoting awareness of the project and advising on ways in which to activate the project within the community once it is complete.

The committee will consist of up to 12 Buncombe County residents representing varying age demographics and lived experiences. Applications open Nov. 15 and close Dec. 10. Interested individuals can find the application at Selections will be announced by Dec. 20 with the first advisory committee meeting held in early January 2022.

Aisha Adams of Equity Over Everything is serving as lead consultant on the process of creating the committee and facilitating meetings, which will take place approximately quarterly throughout 2022 at the Explore Asheville offices. Applications that represent connection to the Black community in Buncombe County through one or more of the following criteria will be prioritized:

  • Current or past residents of historically Black neighborhoods and communities
  • Connected to Black/African American youth, arts, and education (kindergarten through college)
  • Involvement in local historical preservation projects
  • Associated with the local Black faith community
  • Have direct, lived experiences related to local Black history or have related insight through research, projects or family
  • Experience with social justice issues and community activism
  • Black business leaders and/or tourism professionals

Initiated by local African American community development organization River Front Development Group, the African American Heritage Trail is funded by the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s Tourism Product Development Fund grant program using occupancy tax revenue collected from overnight visitors. Although the trail is funded by the Buncombe County TDA and produced by Explore Asheville, its authenticity and ultimate success are dependent upon involvement from the community.

Accordingly, Explore Asheville and River Front Development have hosted a number of community engagement events and activities, such as presentations, listening sessions and surveys. Most recently this included a month-long display at the YMI Cultural Center with sample storyboards for the public to view and provide feedback. The advisory committee is one more effort to involve the community.

“We are glad to be moving forward with this much-needed project that celebrates and shares the legacy and contributions of African Americans in our community,” said River Front Development Group Executive Director Catherine Mitchell. “We welcome the public’s continued involvement through the advisory committee to preserve and protect Asheville’s African American history and culture.”

“Our hope is that the trail will be a platform for residents and visitors to follow, embrace and understand important Black stories in our community,” said Vic Isley, president and CEO of Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County TDA. “It’s part of our collective effort to engage and invite more diverse audiences to Asheville, and importantly, connect those guests to local neighborhoods, diverse businesses and entrepreneurs – creating more opportunities for all to win.”

“The African American Heritage Trail is a step in the right direction towards inclusive storytelling,” said Adams. “We are proud to partner with River Front Development and Explore Asheville to help uplift the often overlooked and under-told stories of Blacks in Asheville.”

The project was approved for support by the Buncombe County TDA in the Tourism Product Development Fund 2018 grant cycle and is expected to be completed in late 2022. Plans for design and construction, originally slated for 2020 and into 2021, were paused due to the pandemic.

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African American Heritage Trail FAQs

What is the African American Heritage Trail?

Initiated by River Front Development Group, a local African American community development organization, the project is conceived as a walkable trail in and around downtown Asheville that will honor and preserve the rich heritage of the local Black community. Sites and stories will range from well-known landmarks visible in the community today to the unsung heroes and underrecognized achievements and contributions by the Black community in the past.

How is the project being funded?

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is funding the project with occupancy tax revenue collected from visitors staying in Buncombe County lodging as part of its Tourism Product Development Fund grant program. The trail markers will be installed and maintained in perpetuity by the Buncombe County TDA.

How will it be decided what sites and stories become part of the trail?

Input has been gathered from community engagement efforts including online surveys, focus group discussions, and listening session workshops. Additionally, applications for an advisory committee are now underway with the support of Equity Over Everything.

Will the trail also be available online?

Yes, there will be an accompanying website that will include a map of the trail as well as additional information such as photos, videos, and oral history recordings.

Will the trail be expanded outside of Asheville?

The current phase of the project is focused on creating a walkable trail in and around downtown Asheville. Additional sites may be included in the digital version of the trail.

What is the proposed route?

Some sites and stories are well known; others have received less attention through the years. This trail aims to represent a broad range of history including renowned landmarks and leaders, such as the YMI Cultural Center on The Block and James Vester Miller, to the unsung heroes and underrecognized achievements and contributions by the Black community in Asheville.

When will the project be completed?

The project is expected to be completed in late 2022. Upon completion, the Buncombe County TDA will promote the trail on Explore Asheville’s marketing platforms to preserve, share, and amplify the stories to a broad audience.


Kathi M. Petersen, Director of Public Information