Gov. Ralph Northam’s creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation will mean yet another resource to support Franklin County’s efforts to promote its rich variety of opportunities for activities in the great outdoors.
It’s fitting the governor chose nearby Carvins Cove in Roanoke County as the setting for his announcement last week, because it’s in the territory of the Roanoke Regional Partnership, which includes Franklin County.
It’s also fitting that our partnership boasts a director of outdoor branding, namely Pete Eshelman, who also serves on the Virginia Tourism Corporation board of directors. Eshelman has been the spark plug behind Go Outside Festival, or GO Fest, and a litany of other outdoor events in our region. All these elements factor into an equation that should equal further growth in participation in outdoor recreation in Franklin County.
The governor’s announcement underscored the impact of the outdoors to the Virginia economy. Here are some quick numbers for the commonwealth in these categories:
• Direct jobs: 197,000
• Consumer spending: $22 billion
• State and local tax revenue: $1.2 billion
• Percentage of Virginians participating in outdoor recreation: 57%
• Number of outdoor companies: More than 200
Brian Ball, secretary of commerce and trade for Virginia, zeroed in on another reason for focusing on outdoor recreation: “Quality of life is often a key decision point for businesses deciding on their next location, and we want to leverage every asset in Virginia’s value proposition.”
Virginia recently regained CNBC’s top spot as the best state in which to do business. About a quarter of the 50 states now have agencies similar to Virginia’s newly created Office of Outdoor Recreation.
All these developments are positive for Franklin County.
We’re loaded with outdoor recreation assets, from our miles of hiking trails to our inclusion in a regional silver-level designation as a world-class mountain biking destination — the only one on the East Coast to be accorded that award by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
There are numerous opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and tubing on the waters here as well, all of which are actively promoted by our Franklin County Parks and Recreation Department. Meanwhile, there are also a variety of outdoor events throughout the year for enthusiasts — everything from the annual Smith Mountain Lake Stand-up Paddleboard Race in September to multiple Concerts by Canoe at Philpott Lake to the Franklin County Gravel Grinder Trinity for mountain bikers.
So, for us, the creation of the state Office of Outdoor Recreation is yet another tool for our local recreation and economic development leaders to use in further promoting recreational opportunities here for residents and prospective businesses alike.