by Katie Teems, NHT AmeriCorps Member
Eric Thompson spent his formative years in Tucker County, eventually returning to live here full time in 2012. Eric has lived all across the United States. He worked in client service management for a Fortune 500 company before deciding to dedicate more time to doing what he really loves— working as a rafting guide. He's also worked as a paddle, surf, kayak instructor as well as a ski patroler and wilderness EMT.
In 2012, Eric came back to Thomas during Superstorm Sandy to volunteer at the Thomas shelter and work on the chainsaw trail recovery crew at Whitegrass. On his way to get groceries, before he had planned to leave Thomas to go back to Oregon, Eric was in a car accident and sustained a spinal cord injury. During recovery was when he decided to make Thomas his home base again.
Since the accident, Eric has become a regional champion for accessibility needs. He has started WVOnTheGo, which he hopes will receive non-profit status in the near future. Eric has been working with businesses to increase accessibility. He says "with a little more work with handrails and bathrooms, we'll be able to promote what we love about Tucker County to customers who we're currently failing to serve."
There is a big market for accessible tourism, Eric says. Using census data, Eric was able to determine that there are 687 people in Tucker County with walking disabilities and 13,000 people with a walking disability in the adjacent counties. There are 1.5 million people with walking disabilities within a 3 hour drive of Thomas, he says. This is a missed opportunity. Eric says that people with disabilities recreate just as much, travel with their friends and family, and are better connected and more loyal to businesses that meet their needs. These folks are currently not being served in Thomas where 17 out of 27 businesses have steps in front of the only entrance.
Part of Eric's mission with WVOnTheGo is to promote accessible businesses in the region. To do this he plans to release a travel guide. Eric is also spreading the word to local businesses that there is a definite incentive to making a business ADA compliant. Not only will those businesses gain new loyal customers, but those businesses are also eligible to receive $20,000 each year in IRS tax credits.
Eric says he is "thankful to businesses who have worked with him on becoming ADA accessible. Their contributions to the community are very much appreciated." New Historic Thomas is fortunate to have a community member like Eric Thompson who loves our city and wants to make it where everyone can enjoy what we have to offer.