Thanks to the help of Charles and Margaret Barnhardt, who came up with the idea to bring back the visitors’ center inside the new Treasure Potts II building, the center will celebrate its grand opening April 11 at its new location on 8065 Fancy Gap Highway. Blue Ridge HOST President Don Foster said the group is elated about the new services it will be able to offer as it furthers its goal of making Fancy Gap a destination to stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“We’re very excited. Now we’ve got a place where if people are coming up the mountain and they are going to get on the parkway, they can jump off and actually get information,” Foster said. “A lot of times they don’t even see the visitors’ center down in Hillsville because they don’t go that far or they are coming the other direction. Hopefully they will stop in and get information they need to tell them about the area.”
Carroll County citizens are encouraged to attend the grand opening of the new center April 11, beginning with a ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. The Easter Bunny will be in attendance and an Easter egg hunt is scheduled for noon. Candy and brownies will be available for everyone. Door prizes and giveaways will also be part of the opening ceremonies.
“While our main emphasis is tourists and people coming through Fancy Gap and the Blue Ridge Parkway, we are hoping the local community will come out and see the artisans at Treasure Potts II and also see what we offer,” Foster said.
Aside from its new location and a huge new sign pointing folks to it, the Blue Ridge HOST Visitors’ Center offers many additional services that were not available at the old location. A new computer allows visitors to download maps and directions to sights in the area and on the parkway. A copier and printer allows them to take their trip planner with them.
Visitors can also access links to nine different chambers of commerce and six visitors centers in the area. Folks can also check and download e-mails while they are visiting. And while the Blue Ridge HOST Visitors center has a multitude of brochures for places of interest throughout the area, parkway and state, brochures not available can be downloaded from the computer.
Travelers can also access the group’s website (www.blueridgehost.com), which is designed to showcase the area’s finest dining, lodging, retail, wineries, recreation, and service businesses. Calendars of events, flyers, brochures, coupon specials and co-op promotions allow visitors to create their own custom itinerary and plan their trip easily.
“There are many plusses to our website,” Foster said.
A map of the entire Blue Ridge Parkway is also featured inside the Visitors Center, which helps travelers realize Fancy Gap is the center point of the parkway. Of course, being inside the new Treasure Potts II, a regional artisans gallery, shouldn’t hurt either.
“This draw is going to help both sides. The artisan people that come in here to look at the arts and crafts or to buy items are going to be able to see things they didn’t even know existed in the area,” Foster said. “Also, people that are coming up here like to shop, so this makes a great place to stop and actually see what is available from all our local artisans.”
Foster said the next step is to have the Blue Ridge HOST Visitors Center become a certified registered visitors’ center of Virginia. Currently, Foster said the center exceeds all the criteria to become registered with the exception of signage. He said Blue Ridge HOST has applied for grants and it hopes to have signs on the Parkway, on Va. 148, U.S. 52 and eventually I-77.
“That would point people in our direction so they can get information about the area and to make this a destination point. That is our goal,” Foster said. “We exceed all the criteria with the exception of signage, which is one reason we need to increase our membership. As we expand our base and get more signage, it just increases our visibility with everybody.”
Currently, Blue Ridge HOST boasts approximately 100 members. Foster said it hopes to be closer to 200 members by the end of the year, which would help it pay for advertising and promotion work for all its members, and also to pay for and erect the necessary signage to become certified. Membership to Blue Ridge HOST is $100 per year, but nonprofit organizations, churches, art councils, and museums can join for free.
“All they’ve got to do is just go online, fill out an application, send it in and we will put them on there (in the visitors center, in nine different chambers of commerce, and on www.blueridgehost.com),” Foster said.
With Fancy Gap set to host a massive celebration in 2010 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Foster said Blue Ridge HOST plans to bring back the Cherry and Apple Festivals next year in addition to a new Fourth of July Festival.
And with the parkway recently lifting its longtime ban of buses on the parkway, Foster said the group hopes to set up tours — such as a tour of the area’s Rock Churches, which he said could be tied in with the Blue Ridge Music Center as well as all the museums and arts and crafts available locally.
“We would like to start those tours here at the visitors center if possible, or at least in Fancy Gap,” Foster said.
The Blue Ridge HOST Visitors’ Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. For additional information, contact the group at email@example.com or at (276) 398-3207.