Pillars of community recognized at Chamber Dinner

The Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce recognized the Snowshoe Foundation as its Business of the Year. From left: Chamber secretary Heather Niday, Foundation board members Bill Jordan and Jessica Stump, and Foundation executive director Kristen Doss. Below, Michelle Wilfong, right, was named Individual of the Year and was presented a painted slate by Chamber vice president Doss. S. Stewart photos

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer
 
The Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce held its annual dinner Thursday evening where it celebrated the individuals and businesses in the community that enrich the people and places of Pocahontas County.

Chamber vice president Kristen Doss introduced the individual of the year, who has focused on providing education and outreach in the agriculture field.

Michelle Wilfong, of Green Bank, is the librarian at Pocahontas County High School, and is involved in multiple organizations that provide agricultural activities for the youth of the county.

“[She] is involved with the livestock club, beef quiz bowl team coaching, the citizens club, and she volunteers at the animal shelter and nursing home,” Doss said. “A 2019 Fish Bowl grant winner, she is involved in FFA and 4-H and hosted a Farm Credit beef tour in January. She also developed and implemented a Corn Maze. She has done so many wonderful things.”

Doss added that Wilfong is also a West Virginia Farm Bureau member, West Virginia Farm Bureau farmer and rancher committee member and a West Virginia Cattlewomen member.

Wilfong donated 100 percent of the proceeds from one project to the Discovery Junction and plans to expand CJ’s Corn Maze for 2020.

Chamber secretary Heather Niday introduced the business of the year, one that has provided countless funds to the communities of Pocahontas County through its grant program. 

The Snowshoe Foundation was established in 2003 and provides grant funding to programs in Pocahontas, Randolph and Webster counties.

“Their mission is to elevate the quality of life for residents within the central West Virginia communities of Pocahontas, Randolph and Webster counties,” Niday said. “They provide financial support to local, community-based organizations whose activities provide benefits to all these communities. Since its establishment in 2003, they’ve distributed more than $3.2 million to local communities. Of that distribution, more than $1.63 million has been distributed directly to Pocahontas County.”

Niday explained that in 2019, the Snowshoe Foundation provided $66,000 in education and arts grants; $61,000 in recreation grants; $15,000 in health grants; $22,000 in human services grants; $13,000 for smoke detectors and fire prevention programs; $51,000 in higher education scholarships; $54,000 in commissions to local food vendors for Treasure on the Mountain; and $30,000 toward the purchase of high velocity bulletproof vests for West Virginia State Police troopers.

Guest speaker for the evening – Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Cara Rose – discussed the efforts of the CVB to promote and increase the tourism industry in the county.

In the same vein of the old saying – education is the three Rs – tourism is about the three Ps.

“What I’m going to talk about tonight are three primary things, and that’s the power of product, the power of partnerships and the power of people,” Rose said.

To begin, Rose talked about the product, which, of course, is all the great attractions in Pocahontas County.

“Tourism has been a part of our landscape in Pocahontas County since the beginning of time,” she said. “Since there was a fishing rod and hunting. We’re really fortunate to have five state parks and two state forests in this county. That was probably the true beginning of tourism and product development. Today, as you can see on the list, we are very fortunate in this county to have a wonderful tourism product.”

Along with the five state parks and two state forests, the lists includes eight rivers, Monongahela National Forest, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, the Green Bank Observatory, Durbin Greenbrier Valley Railroad, Pearl S. Buck Birthplace and a total of 800 miles of trails and 340 plus miles of mountain bike trails.

“We are the envy of most counties in the state of West Virginia because of these wonderful products that we have,” Rose said. “We do a lot of work at the CVB with tourism development and that mostly involves building around products that we already have and branding them. You can see all kinds of branding we do in the office and with other partners around the county, as well.”

New products that have developed through the years include the Snowshoe Highlands IMBA Ride Center, Mon Forest Towns, Mountain State Maple Days, the Mountain Music Trail, RoadKill Cook-off, the Great Greenbrier River Race, Cal Price Appalachian Enrichment Series, the Sesquicentennial Quilt Trail and the upcoming Bicentennial celebration.

These products are made possible through the power of partnerships – organizations and businesses working together to create a new and inventive way to promote Pocahontas County.

“The power of partnerships,” Rose said. “That’s really important. Not everybody has that. We’re really lucky in Pocahontas County to have great partners. We’re talking about partners that span all kinds of organizations and businesses that are interested in enhancing tourism in Pocahontas County because we understand the value of it. 

“It’s extremely valuable to our economy,” she added.

Partnerships include the aforementioned entities, as well as organizations like the Pocahontas County Board of Education and the Department of Highways, both of which may not seem tied to tourism, but are, in fact, partners in helping promote the tourism industry.

“It’s just a demonstration of the wide range of different partnerships that we have,” Rose said. “And without partnerships, we couldn’t make what we have in this county happen. It really makes a difference.”

It is because of those partnerships and products they create that enhances the economy of Pocahontas County. 

Rose explained that in 1989-1990, the county collected $280,843 in Hotel/Motel tax. In 2019, the county collected $2 million.

“Pocahontas County is the ninth largest Hotel/Motel tax collector in the state of West Virginia today,” Rose said.

The majority of that money is thanks to the winter season, which makes up 78 percent of the lodging tax. While some would see the summer, spring and fall seasons as less important due to that, Rose sees it as an opportunity to create more products around those seasons.

“This doesn’t tell me that winter is the most important,” Rose said. “It is fiscally, but what it shows me is that we have a lot of opportunity to grow the spring, summer, fall business, as well. We want the numbers to increase. We want four million dollars in Hotel/Motel tax. We want that shift to be in those other three seasons. We want to keep winter as busy as it’s always been, but we want to grow those other seasons.”

Tourism is a great value to Pocahontas County, but it’s not just the attractions that make visitors return. It’s the people. 

“The way we grow is through people, working together through partnerships and building products,” Rose said. “Everybody has an impact. Every single person in this room impacts tourism. You might not think you have any influence, no impact on tourism. It’s just not true. Every single person in Pocahontas County is impacted by it and impacts tourism.”

Rose said when visitors fill out surveys, the number one thing they say is that they are drawn here to see natural beauty. The second thing they say is that they return because of the people. 

“They return because of us and that says a lot about authenticity – who we are and how valuable we are to that tourism experience,” she said. “So we want to foster that.”

The CVB has developed a new marketing tool to promote the people of Pocahontas County. It is called Mountain Culture. A committee was put together and they created a program to ensure all visitors have that genuine county experience through its people.

“The people in this county are authentic,” Rose said. “We treat our visitors just like we do our neighbors. Most people that visit here don’t have neighbors that they know. They seriously don’t, so when they encounter people who are really friendly, at some point, they’re probably really surprised by that.

“Again it does leave an impression.”

The Mountain Culture motto – which Rose said was created by committee member Mike Holstine – is: “Who we are: The rugged nature of our existence brings out the bold nature of our people, to be genuine, strong, inviting, helpful and attentive to the needs of our neighbors, friends and visitors alike.”

“Couldn’t have written it better,” Rose said.

Rose also shared photos and stories from her time with the Pocahontas County High School tourism club, which the CVB sponsors. The club, which is the largest at PCHS, travels around West Virginia, learning more about the tourism industry and experiencing some of the unique products offered throughout the state.

The Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce is always looking for individuals and businesses that need recognition. It depends on the public to make recommendations to bring those names to the forefront.

To nominate a business or individual, contact Chamber Community Liaison, Sarah Irvine, at 304-646-8940.

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