At the annual Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau partners luncheon, individuals and businesses celebrated another successful year of providing a one-of-a-kind unique experience to visitors of Pocahontas County.
CVB executive director Cara Rose, who has been in the tourism industry for three decades, gave a report on the ups and downs of tourism in the county and how Pocahontas County has continued to endure through the years.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Rose said. “I’ve seen lots of ups, lots of downs and new things and things going away, and great achievements in the industry, and I really do believe in my heart that Pocahontas County is positioned to continue to grow. I think most importantly, Pocahontas County has the potential to continue to develop its unique tourism product and that’s what is really key when it comes to destination marketing.”
Using a slideshow presentation, Rose explained how tourism has changed over the years as well as ways the county can improve. As always, the winter season is the most profitable time of year and while that will continue, Rose said it is important to look at ways to expand the spring, summer and fall months.
“The winter season is still the most vital season to Pocahontas County when it comes to the CVB budget and hotel/motel tax collection,” Rose said. “You can see clearly that eighty-five percent of the hotel/motel tax collection still comes in the wintertime. Then you’ll see it broken down – two percent in the spring, nine percent in the summer and about four percent in the fall.
“What this really tells us is we have an opportunity to grow the other seasons and not only do we want to grow them, we don’t want to take away from the winter,” she continued. “What we really want to do is increase traffic year-round.”
The county has been recognized over the years for its unique programs and natural attraction, and Rose said that is what continues to bring in visitors.
“The Greenbrier River Trail State Park has been recognized a few times,” Rose said. “They were awarded the Best Running Trail and the Best Hiking Trail by the Blue Ridge Outdoor readership last year.
“The Mountain Music Trail was recognized by the British Guild of Travel Writers in 2016. The Mountain Music Trail competed with Egypt and Ethiopia. What a wonderful opportunity to publicize West Virginia and our five county region along the Mountain Music Trail.”
The CVB is working with the school system to better acquaint students with the attractions of Pocahontas County, as well as in West Virginia. Rose started the Tourism Club at Pocahontas County High School and, in its five years, the club has attracted between 30 and 40 members.
“They learn about career opportunities and summer job opportunities, and the value that tourism brings to Pocahontas County and to the state of West Virginia,” Rose said. “I do think it is really important. It’s an element of education but more importantly it’s starting that influence early when it comes to building the workforce and building the knowledge about tourism.”
To conclude, Rose said one of the draws of Pocahontas County is the hospitality. Several times a year, the CVB provides hospitality training to businesses and individuals in the tourism industry to prepare them for anything visitors may throw at them.
“Hospitality can set us apart,” Rose said. “It’s an opportunity for us to raise the bar and exceed guest expectations, and that’s really important.”
The CVB board of directors, led by president Mary Snyder, honored Linda Adams for her 20 years of service as a CVB employee.
“I would guess that all of you know her,” Snyder said. “She started working for the CVB in 1997 when the office was still located in the depot. She has worked for four directors and for twenty years. She is the person to go to when you need something since she has a memory like no other.”
Rose welcomed Jody Spencer, park superintendent at Watoga State Park, the Greenbrier River Trail State Park, Beartown State Park and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, to give an update on the status of the Greenbrier River Trail after it suffered flood damage last summer.
Spencer explained that while the portion of the trail in Pocahontas County is fine, a section of the trail in Greenbrier County is currently closed due to a rock slide caused by the June 2016 flooding.
“In Pocahontas County, the trail is fine, the trail is open,” Spencer said. “The trail is technically closed from mile post six to mile post thirteen. That’s in an area of Harper Road down near Caldwell up to Anthony.”
Crews fixed a portion of the trail between mile post 3 and 6 in order to give access to the southern part of the trail, but the rest of the damaged trail is closed.
Preparing for the summer, many asked if visitors could be directed to an alternate route around the damaged area and Spencer said, at this time, it is not a good idea.
“My gut feeling is to say I would not even attempt that at this time and the purpose being is that we’ve intentionally not gone in between mile post six and thirteen. It’s officially closed on the books, so if someone comes in there and gets hurt and there’s some kind of issue in there, we don’t want any unneeded liabilities and neither do you.”
Spencer explained that the rock slide which closed the trail is about 125 feet tall, but the good news is, it will be cleaned up soon.
“The good news is, Josh [Feather] and I just met with ten contractors and folks from our engineering department last week to do a pre-bid meeting on the trail,” Spencer said. “FEMA has already given money to parks for the damages that we incurred down on the southern part of the trail so the money is in hand. The bid process is out there now, and it’s my understanding that bids are due back in within one week.”
Because the trail clean-up is considered an Emergency Authorization project, Spencer said there should be less red tape to cut through and the project should be underway sometime this summer.
When the project begins, Spencer said that section of trail will remain closed until repairs are completed.
Spencer said he was excited with the progress being made.
“Truthfully folks, I thought in the back of my mind that we were going to have two Greenbrier River Trails for the rest of my life – one north of thirteen and one south of thirteen,” he said. “If you’ve ever seen that rock slide at mile post thirteen, you’d know exactly what I’m talking about. It is literally one hundred twenty-five feet on the back end of that site. That is just a tremendous amount of rocks. I didn’t think that it would ever be moved. FEMA came in and looked at it and said, ‘holy cow.’ National Guard came in and said, ‘oh, wow.’ It was impressive by all measures.”
Spencer said the plan is to level the pile of rock to a five percent grade and make it a part of the trail.
In other flood damage updates, Rose shared a copy of the Williams River Road map which shows areas that are open and the section of the road that is still closed to the public until repairs are made. There are gates on either side of the damage blocking the road.