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Dave Clark

Rural Developer

Collaborating with rural communities to build vibrant downtowns that engage local residents, create nurturing gathering spaces, and build real community wealth.

Headshot of Dave Clark

Dave Clark spent much of his childhood in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. But it wasn’t until his mid-20s, working a summer job for the U.S. Forest Service, that he fell in love with the place—appreciating its lush landscape and dynamic culture. After a long career in community support—working at a settlement house, running a program for high school seniors, and working with local groups on clean water and conservation—Clark jumped at the chance to lead a nascent nonprofit based in the town of Elkins.

At Woodlands Development Group, Clark works with local stakeholders to develop plans and priorities for redevelopment. From restoring buildings in downtowns, to creating new parks and trails, to financing and supporting local startups, Clark’s work is centered on the idea that involving local residents boosts civic engagement and leads to town centers that benefit all.

Elkins, West Virginia, has a population of 7,000, and Clark describes it as a “place of contradictions.” It’s a community where a shack owned by an elderly man sits below a million-dollar home purchased by doctors. A community devastated by extractive boom-and-bust industries like timber and coal. Where the Tygart Hotel, a crown jewel of the railroad era, has fallen into disrepair and become slum housing. It is a community that is both beautiful and gritty.  

As an Emerson Collective Fellow, Clark will build a model for reviving a struggling, rural downtown, like that in Elkins, without displacing longtime residents. Woodlands Group is redeveloping the Tygart. Following its recent reopening as a hotel in early 2024, Clark will build out programming that anchors it firmly to the community. He’ll hire artists to create site-specific installations, commission performances that celebrate local culture, and use the hotel’s proceeds—and donations from guests—to establish a fund dedicated to workforce housing and neighborhood infrastructure. In all, he’ll make the Tygart Hotel a community asset everyone can enjoy.

More about The Emerson Collective Fellowship.

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