By Ryan Cornell
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival were among 42 tourism initiatives awarded more than $750,000 in matching grant funds by the Virginia Tourism Corporation's Marketing Leverage Grant program.
The grants were announced by Gov. Bob McDonnell this week and are designed to help these tourism entities attract more visitors through marketing dollars.
The 87th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, "The Land of Pink & Green," was awarded a grant of $25,000 and the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District 2014-2016 marketing campaign received a grant of $25,360.
Terry Heder, director of interpretation and communications at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, said that the grant will be especially useful for marketing next year's many sesquicentennial events.
"It is the perfect time given that next year, that's the biggest year for the valley," he said. "It was a great time for these materials. Thanks to the support from VTC, we can make the most of the opportunities."
Heder said the money will be used to spread the word about commemorations as well as creating multiple publications and visitors guides to battlefields and events.
Notable sesquicentennial commemorations include the Battle of New Market in May, Battle of Second Kernstown in July, Battle of Third Winchester in September and the Battle of Cedar Creek in October.
Heder said by increasing the foundation's marketing campaign, it will increase long-term visitation, visitor spending and tourism dollars in the area as a result.
"What we want to see is people not only going to the sites themselves, but also going to and spending money at nearby restaurants and hotels," he said. "We want to make sure that they come and bring their families for several days and do other things while they're here.
We want to see battlefield preservation and restoration lead to economic benefits of the valley as a whole," he said. "Everyone benefits from the battlefield work."
Heder said the foundation partnered with Lexington and Rockbridge area tourism and the Grand Caverns in Grottoes to apply for the grant. He added that they hope to partner with other tourism offices and sites throughout the valley.
A minimum of three Virginia entities were required to partner financially to apply for the grant and needed to match the state grant funds by a minimum of 2:1 to support marketing projects.
Organizers of the Apple Blossom Festival will use the $25,000 grant for the various avenues of advertising and marketing they plan to utilize to draw tourists into Virginia, including TV, print, posters and the internet.
John Rosenberger, executive director of the festival, said one of these ads is a half-hour pre-festival production that airs on Washington, D.C., networks and channels from Roanoke to Harrisburg, Pa.
"And that's what the VTC [Virginia Tourism Corporation] is all about," he said. "Trying to bring people from Pennsylvania into Virginia and from West Virginia into Virginia."
The festival needs to spend at least $50,000 toward marketing to receive the grant, but he said they typically spend much more than that. He said he believes they've applied to the grant for the past three years and have received it each time.
"When the bottom fell out of the economy, before that it was pretty easy," he said. "Everybody seemed to have money that they were willing to give to all types of organizations doing all kinds of things. It's certainly recovered since then, but people still seem to be quite thrifty. It's still difficult and this [grant] is much appreciated."
The 87th annual Apple Blossom Festival will be held in Winchester from April 25 to May 4
McDonnell stated in a release that Virginia tourism in 2012 generated $21.2 billion in revenue, supported 210,000 jobs and provided $1.36 billion in state and local taxes.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or email@example.com