Tourism isn’t a sideline enterprise in Virginia. Recent state figures show that tourists spent $2.3 billion on travel, lodging, food, recreation and retail goods in 2017. That generated a payroll income of nearly $5.9 billion for the tourism industry and supported 232,000 jobs. Tourism yielded nearly $3.4 billion in federal, state and local tax receipts.
In Franklin County, tourism generated $109 million in 2017, had a direct or indirect payroll impact of $24.7 million and accounted for 1,280 jobs, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
Of 133 counties and independent cities in the state tourism report, Franklin ranked 42nd in total tourism expenditures, trailing such leading counties and cities as Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and Virginia Beach, each with more than $1 billion in tourism expenditures.
Regionally, Franklin County is a leader in tourism revenue generation, nearly tied with Bedford County, which had just $1 million more, and well ahead of Martinsville ($21 million) and Danville ($87 million) and area counties, Floyd ($25 million), Henry ($50 million) and Pittsylvania ($76 million).
Arguably the biggest contributor to Franklin County’s showing on tourism revenue is its side of Smith Mountain Lake. That’s not the only lake attraction here. There’s also Philpott Lake. Franklin shares its scenic recreational offerings – including hiking, swimming, boating, fishing and camping — with Henry and Patrick counties.
The Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount is a regional draw for its multi-faceted musical offerings. For history buffs, there’s the Booker T. Washington National Monument near Hardy. There’s the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum, which draws visitors year-round and a huge crowd during its annual Folklife Festival. Per tradition, that event is on the fourth Saturday in October, Oct. 26 if you’re marking your calendar for 2019.
Annual events in the county include Antique Farm Days, Court Days and the County Agricultural Fair, just to name three of a dozen or so more.
Plus, there are a variety of hiking trails at the Waid Park Recreation Area. For the earnest mountain biker, there’s the daunting Gravel Grinding Trinity, composed of three separate routes, Big Ring Hopper (46 miles), Lunch Break (55 miles) and Firewater (47 miles). Bikers who completed all three trails by Sept. 1 got a custom printed T-shirt free from the Franklin County Parks and Recreation Department.
More recreational opportunities could be on the horizon for Franklin County, depending upon how recent recommendations from the West Piedmont Regional Planning District play out. A 2018 West Piedmont Regional Bicycle Plan designates a large swath of county territory roughly west of Ferrum, Rocky Mount, Wirtz and Boones Mill as a “priority zone” of interconnected rural roads on which bicyclists could ride.
Although this might be a helpful regional designation for all roads west of these communities to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the planning district’s study also notes that a survey of bicyclists clearly showed most residents and others outside Franklin County, want to have cycling trails designated. That suggests that the next step should be a further refinement for bicycling trails for this rural part of our county.