Jun 14 2016

Giles to celebrate river trail tourism initiative

Giles to celebrate river trail tourism initiative

Originally published in the Roanoke Times, June 2016

By Tonia Moxley tonia.moxley@roanoke.com 381-1675

Civil War, birding and wildlife, crooked road, coal heritage: To the growing list of Virginia’s heritage trails, add Giles County’s New River Water Trail.

On Monday the county will celebrate the initiative at the trail’s newest river access point, the Ripplemead boat landing.

Officials will dedicate the landing at 1 p.m. at 999 Ripplemead Road. Del. Joseph Yost, R-Pearisburg, and Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward are scheduled to speak.

“We wanted this to be able to attract and promote, not only the river usage, because we already knew folks were coming and using the river” and its multiple access points, Giles Tourism Director Cora Gnegy said.

But the trail “gives us an opportunity to connect all of those in a way that … would be easier for [users] to get on water,” she said. Meanwhile, the trail website and printed maps help visitors “find out about dining options, about local arts and history” and the “authentic experience that they can have here in Giles.”

Planning for the trail began in 2014, soon after Gnegy was hired, and was done by a task force that included tourism business owners and county officials and residents, Gnegy said.

Photo from Roanoke Times article, by Michael Shroyer

Photo from Roanoke Times article, by Michael Shroyer

Ripplemead is one of two boat launch sites constructed recently and funded primarily through Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ grants to localities program, according to David Whitehurst, director of the agency’s bureau of wildlife resources.

DGIF funded $83,400 of the $107,670 cost of the Ripplemead boat launch, with Giles picking up the rest, Whitehurst said. The previously completed Bluff City landing in Giles cost $106,762, with DGIF funding $78,750 of it, he said.

The landings include concrete boat ramps, parking, restroom facilities and signs.

As the state’s boating agency, DGIF maintains about 270 waterway access points across the commonwealth — an effort that helps connect people with Virginia’s natural landscapes, Whitehurst said.

“It also can be good from a business standpoint,” he added. “More and more people are choosing to do those types of activities, so it actually feeds local economic development and tourism-type activities.”

DGIF works to boost tourism by maintaining its own Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail and by “participating in a lot of these blue water trails by providing good access points with reasonable floating distances between them,” Whitehurst said.

A 2012 study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary estimated that boating in Virginia contributed about $1 billion in direct and indirect spending, employment and taxes to the state’s economy.

To support the industry, DGIF titles and registers more 225,000 watercraft, enforces boating regulations and offers boating education courses, according to Lee Walker, the agency’s outreach director.

So far the New River Water Trail includes more than a dozen access points along the county’s 37 miles of river, and lists eight nearby day hikes. The website — www.newriverwatertrail.com — features a number of trip-planning tools, including information on guide services, restaurants, lodging, events and activities.

The website was available last year, said Leigh Stoudenmire, co-owner of New River Outdoor Co., which as been operating since 2004.

This year, Stoudenmire said she has the printed maps.

“It’s helped us have that tangible something people can take with them,” Stoudenmire said. “People want to know more about the New River,” but in the past it didn’t have its own brochure. Now, it does, she said.

The trail effort may not directly boost individual businesses in the short term, she said. But it “pulls everyone together,” from the outfitters to restaurants, and as a whole will make Giles a more attractive draw for visitors.

Gnegy said county officials are considering how they might work with other localities to expand the effort.

The river stretches for 90 miles from Claytor Lake in Pulaski County to West Virginia’s Bluestone Lake, Gnegy said.

“The vision is to make this grow.”

To explore other commonwealth heritage trails, including water trails, visit http://www.virginia.org/trails.

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