The tobacco, coal mining and manufacturing industries have declined, leaving some area communities struggling.
However, tourism professionals are looking to capitalize on some of that economic heritage. Franklin County Director of Tourism David Rotenizer told The Franklin News-Post recently he would like to see a preservation program to stop the decline of local tobacco barns.
“There are things that can be done, such as making sure the roof is intact and covering the windows,” Rotenizer said. “In another generation or two, we will have nothing to show for the history of tobacco farming in the area. It’s about preserving our history.”
He proposes placing barn quilts on the barns and making them part of a visitors trail like the artisan trails across Southwest Virginia. Rotenizer believes that could be a conversation starter and build community support for such a preservation program. The various sites also could be an attraction for people to visit, collecting photos in front of various sites.
Recently, the nonprofit Friends of Southwest Virginia updated local people and business owners on initiatives the organization has been working on. While most of those initiatives are focused on the Soutwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace (formerly Heartwood) in Abingdon, which serves as a cultural arts center and Crooked Road venue, the organization has been working to cross-promote attractions in Franklin County along with the other 19 counties the organization serves.
Four cities and 54 towns are included in that cross-promotion, lending a Rocky Mount business a chance to be promoted in all of those areas. The organization also has a social media presence. By adding #SWVA to a business’ post, there is automatic promotion on Facebook and Twitter, and it adds the event or business to the cultural center’s radar. The organization also looks to connect communities to a key asset. As the Blue Ridge Parkway weaves through the western side of Franklin County, Friends of Southwest Virginia searches for ways to lure travelers from the parkway into the community.
Boones Mill recently posted a new welcome sign touting the town as a “Gateway to the Blue Ridge.” Rotenizer told the Town Council during its March 12 meeting Boones Mill is the first town to tie itself to the parkway through branding.
Franklin County is featured on the Crooked Road and boasts Smith Mountain Lake, Philpott Lake, the White Lightning Artisan Trail, the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum, the Harvester Performance Center, the Booker T. Washington National Monument and the Jubal Early Homeplace. Friends of Southwest Virginia provides the regional marketing needed to make visitors aware of these assets. Other possible initiatives include beer and wine trails.
Among Friends’ key initiatives areexpanding outdoor recreational development and downtown revitalization. Downtown Rocky Mount has come a long way over the years but with some empty storefronts along the main roads and the support of other community partnerships, the town could really gain some traction. Other Franklin County communities also could use the economic boost like St.Paul and Marion.