Project Background: African American Heritage Trail

Investing in Community

In 2018, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) awarded funding to two projects that will contribute to establishing an African American Heritage District that honors the rich heritage of the African American community in Asheville.

The two projects were proposed to the BCTDA through its Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF) grant program by a local, nonprofit organization, the River Front Development Group (RFDG). RFDG’s proposal requested support for (1) an African American heritage museum at the historic site of Stephens-Lee High School (present day Stephens-Lee Recreation Center), and (2) an African American heritage walking trail connecting historic African American communities in downtown Asheville.

Explore Asheville has been working to learn and document cultural and historical stories in a way that reflects the entire community. Through these shared values, these projects present a unique opportunity for Explore Asheville to collaborate on a community-driven process to identify important stories and share them with a larger audience thus helping to preserve local heritage of our community.

Project Elements

1. African American Heritage Museum at the Historic Site of Stephens-Lee High School
A $100,000 TPDF grant awarded to RFDG will provide funding necessary to upfit and preserve historical archives at the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center as well as assist in developing additional exhibitions that honor the history of the Stephens-Lee High School Alumni and the broader African American community. RFDG will execute this project in conjunction with the City of Asheville, the Stephens-Lee Alumni Association, and the East End Valley Neighborhood Association.

2. African American Heritage Walking Trail

In lieu of a TPDF grant, the BCTDA committed to provide dedicated staff and funding for the development of the trail including a community engagement process, design, installation, and the creation of a digital version of the trail on the platform. The trail markers will be installed and maintained in perpetuity by the BCTDA as part of its Wayfinding Signage Program.

African American Heritage Trail

The Heritage Trail is conceived as no less than 19 sites that will present stories from historic African American communities by way of themes that include community life, entrepreneurship, faith, entertainment, and education. The narrative content of the trail will inform the physical path that the trail will take through the historic African American neighborhoods that surround and include downtown Asheville. The project team is working from the modern premise of telling an inclusive story of history through the African American Heritage Trail.


  • The River Front Development Group submitted a proposal to the BCTDA in the 2018 TPDF grant cycle, June 2018
  • BCTDA awarded a TPDF grant award of $100,000 to the River Front Development Group for the African American heritage museum at Stephens-Lee Recreation Center, October 2018
  • BCTDA committed to providing dedicated staff and funding for the development of the African American heritage trail, October 2018
  • A project team was established consisting of: local consultant in community engagement, Kimberly Hunter; national museum and community engagement consultant, Dina Bailey; staff from PGAV Consulting Firm; and staff from Explore Asheville, January 2019
  • BCTDA hosted the Opening Reception for the Asheville Area Arts Council’s 2019 Creative Sector Summit at the YMI Cultural Center. Dina Bailey, part of the BCTDA’s project team, presented “Telling the Whole Story,” May 2019
  • BCTDA was one of the sponsors of the 6th annual African Americans in WNC and Southern Appalachia Conference at UNCA. Project team members Kimberly Hunter and Dina Bailey participated in the “Black Lens on Tourism” panel discussion, October 2019
  • Project team conducted Listening Session group calls, December 2019
  • Project team hosted Listening Session Workshops, January 2020
  • Phase I Community Engagement completed, review the report here, July 2020
  • Sample storyboards on display at YMI Cultural Center and online to provide opportunity for public input, September 2021
  • Call for applications issued for individuals to serve on project Advisory Committee, facilitated by Aisha Adams of Equity Over Everything, November 2021
  • Advisory Committee members selected December 2021, with first meeting taking place February 2022

Advisory Committee & Project Team

With deep local knowledge and varying age demographics, committee members represent an array of lived and professional experience, from history, culture, education and the arts, to Black business owners, consultants, champions, and community organizers, to descendants of some of Asheville’s most influential Black residents. Meet the Advisory Committee as well as the Project Team here.

Invitation to Participate
It is the desire of both the BCTDA and the River Front Development Group to engage the community in dialogue about African American life in Asheville and WNC, which will inform the project. Community input opportunities will be offered throughout the development process. Please check back for upcoming events.