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Tourism promotion pays off for Grayson

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County has taken huge steps forward in its tourism industry in the past year and the results are finally being seen.

During the board of supervisors' meeting Dec. 11, Felicia Hash of the Grayson administrator's office updated members on recent tourism awards and traffic counts on Grayson's Web site.

The first thing Hash talked about was the various awards Grayson won in “Blue Ridge Country” magazine.

“Every five years, 'Blue Ridge Country' magazine readers vote on their favorite places to eat, overnight, hike, bike, camp, wildlife watch and more,” she told the board.

This year, Grayson County won awards in the following categories:

• The New River won the Platinum Award for Best Fishing River, the Platinum award for Best Canoeing River, the Gold Award for Best Whitewater River.

• The Virginia Creeper Trail won the Platinum Award for Best Biking Trail.

• The New River Trail State Park won the Gold Award for Best Biking Trail.

• The Blue Ridge Parkway won the Platinum Award for Best Country Drive, the Platinum Award for Best Motorcycle Ride, the Silver Award for Best National Park and the Platinum Award for Best Fall Foliage. The Parkway also won the Gold Award for Best Scenic Attraction.

• Grayson Highlands Park won the Platinum Award for Best State Park.

• The Blue Ridge Music Center won the Gold Award for Best Concert Stage.

• In the Outstanding Mountain People category, Wayne Henderson — an acclaimed guitarist living in Rugby — and Dolly Parton tied for the Silver Award for Best Mountain Musician.

The award winners were featured in the July/August 2008 issue of Blue Ridge Country, which celebrates the magazine’s 20th anniversary. Reader votes were submitted through mailed paper ballots and the magazine’s website.

“Blue Ridge Country,” produced by Leisure Publishing Company in Roanoke, is a bimonthly magazine with a readership of 425,000. It covers the mountains of nine states from Maryland to Alabama. Established in 1988, the publication has won state, regional, national and international awards for writing, design and editing.

Grayson also was recognized by readers of “Blue Ridge Outdoors,” Hash said.

In the “Best of the Outdoors” issued released in November, Grayson ranked in four categories:

• Whitetop Mountain was ranked fifth by readers as “Best Mountain Summit.”

• The Virginia Creeper Trail was ranked second in the “Best Rails to Trails System.”

• The Blue Ridge Relay was ranked first for “Best Relay.”

• Grayson County's portion of the Appalachian Trail at Mount Rogers/Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands was the editor's choice as “Best Hike.”

“Blue Ridge Outdoors” has a monthly circulation of 110,000 from the Washington D.C. metro area to Atlanta, Ga.

Web Hits

Hash also updated the board on a new tracking system put into place for the county's Web site.

“We now have a tracking system for our county Web site,” she said. “With this tracking system, we can see how many people visit our Web site and how many pages they visit.”

Within the last year, the site has received 3.078 million hits.

From those hits, Hash said the site was visited by 114,094 different people. “Those are people who are interested in Grayson County and wanted to find out more.”

After entering the site, visitors viewed 631,052 different pages.

“These hits were generated from our portal page,” she said. “The date range is November 2007 through early December 2008.”

From the county's government page alone, there were a total of 292,058 hits with 10,194 visitors who viewed 25,317 pages while on the site. Those numbers, Hash said, are from March 2008 to early December.

On the tourism page, there were 12,457 hits with 2,647 visitors viewing 3,438 different pages. Those numbers represent dates of April 2008 through December.

Hash said it was amazing to see how many people were visiting the site and requesting information.

On that note, she also updated the board on state rankings for requesting tourism information.

Since the board's last update on Sept. 23, Hash said the number of requests for information to be direct-mailed has increased from 7,053 to 16,026.

“All of these requests have been filled from the county administrator's office by direct mail to interested parties,” she said.

Pennsylvania ranks as the top state seeking information, with 2,240 requests as of Nov. 21. New York is a distant second with 1,541 requests, while Virginia ranks third with 1,385.

Hash said the office has also received 71 requests from foreign countries such as Canada, Germany, Belgium and Korea.

In all, information has been requested from 17 different countries throughout the world.

Between the international and American distribution, 16,026 packages have been sent out.

“It is evident that our advertising dollars are paying off and we anticipate requests to continue at this rate in the next few months,” she said.

Supervisors were pleased with the results and told Hash to continue the good work.