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Crooked Road gains national attention

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FLOYD — For a few hours Wednesday, men and women in suits and dress clothes filled a dance floor usually reserved for mountain cloggers.

At the Floyd Country Store, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named The Crooked Road — a heritage trail linking towns and music venues in Southwest Virginia — one of 2010’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations.

The trail includes such major venues as the Blue Ridge Music Center, the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention and the historic Rex Theater in Galax; as well as affiliated partners like the Galax Leaf & String Festival, Stringbean Coffee Shop in downtown Galax and Applewood Music Park in Cana.

“This is where America learned to be America,” Joe Wilson, co-founder of The Crooked Road and chairman of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, said into a microphone still warm from the Rugby Gully Jumpers playing old-time music minutes before. “The Blue Ridge was a great mixer of people, and it can still be a great mixer of people.”

This is the first time the National Trust has named a region rather than a town or city as a Distinctive Destination, and the award will give The Crooked Road a platform for marketing on the National Trust’s Web site and in other publications. It doesn’t include a cash award.

“We want other regions in the country to look at The Crooked Road and see how to take regional character and, in effect, build sustainable economic development,” said Rob Nieweg, director of the southern field office for the National Trust.

Cultural heritage tourists spend more than $190 billion on travel a year, and the recognition will help Southwest Virginia further attract those travelers, Nieweg said.

According to a report in December 2008, The Crooked Road brought in nearly 264,000 visitors to the region that year and the economic impact totals $23 million annually, when figuring that money is circulated back into The Crooked Road region’s economy through local investment, performing arts tickets, food and beverages, retail and accommodation sales.

The $23 million figure is equivalent to creating 445 full-time jobs.

Spending on accomodations — hotels, motels, cabins, etc. — increased 232 percent in Galax, from 2004 to 2007.

Direct spending in Crooked Road communities attributed to the music trail totaled $13 million, and annual wages and sales tax benefits for the state from Crooked Road communities are greater than $400,000.

Based on sales of food and beverages, fuel, lodging and other factors, the economic impact study found that the average party spent $366 while visiting The Crooked Road area.

"The Crooked Road has given Galax and its musicians national recognition like never before," said Galax Tourism Director Chuck Riedhammer, who also serves on the executive board of The Crooked Road as the marketing and merchandising chairman. "Now the entire nation and even the world knows we have something special here and that this place is important."

Since The Crooked Road's inception, Riedhammer said the city has continued to see increased inquiries, visitation and Web site traffic from all over the U.S. and the world.

"Thanks to The Crooked Road, Galax is becoming an international destination," he added. "With this award, and the creation of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission, I believe we can count on more recognition like this in the future, which can only benefit our region and our citizens."

The Crooked Road is a network of highways and back roads that stretches from Rocky Mount to Dickenson County coal country. The trail stitches together 10 counties, 10 towns and three cities, as well as multiple planning districts, state agencies, tourism organizations and music venues.

Funded primarily by the Appalachian Regional Commission in addition to other local and state sources, The Crooked Road features eight primary music venues and scores of “affiliated partners” not directly located on the route. Points of interest include everything from large gatherings — such as the Carter Fold in Scott County — to intimate bluegrass jam sessions, including one at the Rocky Mount Dairy Queen.

Anecdotally, some officials along the road say they have seen a steady increase in tourists coming to Southwest Virginia to soak up the sounds of bluegrass and old-time music.

“We do see people come by here who are traveling the road,” said Roddy Moore, director of the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College, one of the road’s major venues. “There’s no question they are coming here because of the road. It still works.”

• All 12 destinations are eligible for the “Fan Favorite” award to be voted on by the public. Voting continues through Feb. 28 at www.PreservationNation.org/ddd. One voter will be picked for a two-night stay at any one of the National Trust-sanctioned Historic Hotels of America.