2015 Progress: Widespread attractions

It could very well be said that tourism and the Northern Shenandoah Valley go hand in hand.

With numerous agritourism attractions — like wineries, breweries and farmers’ markets — as well as popular resort destinations such as Bryce Resort, tourism is a major economic force for the region.

With that unlikely to change, county agencies, towns and organizations are looking to expand tourism locally as well as regionally and internationally this year.

Established events and attractions will be coupled and complemented with festivals and events throughout the area.

Rockin’ in Shenandoah County

For visitors and valley residents, Shenandoah County will be home to two new music festivals this year — Rockin’ the Valley and the Strasburg Blues Festival.

Jenna French, tourism and marketing director for Shenandoah County, said the festivals are expected to have a major impact on the county.

Set for April 18 at the Woodstock Fairgrounds, Rockin’ the Valley is a heavy rock-themed music festival.

“There actually is nothing like that in the region, so we saw it as niche that we could tap into that was not already being done,” French explained.

French added that the festival has been organized and headed up by Tom Eshelman, manager of the Shenandoah County Fair, and will feature 13 acts — including Puddle of Mud — across two stages.

Eshelman noted that 3,000-5,000 people are expected to attend the festival.

“We’ve sold a couple hundred tickets so far, just because some of the bands posted it on their website,” Eshelman said.

The Blues Festival is set for June 6 at the Strasburg Moose Lodge. Blues guitarist Albert Castiglia and many others are headlining the event.

With the two events, French said that the county “would obviously love for locals to come out,” but   they also recognize it as an opportunity to expand tourism.

“From a tourism standpoint, it was drawing people into the county and that, I think, would be the hope for this event as well,” French said.

Farmers’ markets

The 2015 farmer’s market season could be slightly different this year.

Shenandoah County will house two newcomers to the farmers’ market game in the South Street Barn Market and a new, yet-to-be-titled market in Strasburg.

The South Street Barn Market opened for business on Saturday. It is the earliest opening of any area farmers’ market.

Claire Holliday, co-chair of the market’s board as well as its marketing director, said they have between 12 and 18 vendors so far and expect more part-time vendors to sign on in the coming months.

The ultra-early opening date, Holliday said, is part of an effort to make South Street “a year-round market.”

For the 2015 season, at least, South Street will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday from March 14 through Oct. 31.

Pot Town Organics co-owner Janet Heishman has been at the forefront of the effort to open a new Strasburg market in the breezeway near her shop.

According to Heishman, there are around 20 vendors who have pledged support for the market so far.

“I may have to get another permit because we may have more vendors than the breezeway will actually supply,” Heishman said.

The tentative start date for the market is April 18 and it will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday.

Although Heishman said the vendors have not pinpointed an exact end date, she said they are shooting for “the end of October.”

Alongside the newcomers will be the established markets in Front Royal and Woodstock.

Tony Tringale, owner and operator of Tony T’s Apple Mart and co-chair of the market, said they are shooting to expand upon the established market.

“We have about 12 steady vendors and we are looking to expand it a bit,” Tringale said, adding that one of the new attractions will be different, such as rabbit and duck, offered from Rendezvous Farms in Basye.

The Front Royal market will open May 2 and run every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. until the end of October.

The Woodstock Farmers’ Market will once again be housed in the Fort Valley Nursery. This year’s market will start April 18 and run every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. through October.

Shelley Long, part owner and operator of Jadwyn Farm in Woodstock and organizer of the Woodstock market, said that residents can a similar product with “music every week” along with breakfast at the Fort Valley Cafe and a variety of vendors from around the area.

Bryce Resort

Area travelers can also look forward to numerous events at Bryce Resort in Basye, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season by hosting 50 events.

Doug Grayson, the resort’s winter marketing and promotions director, said the resort is still working on finalizing all of the events for 2015.

“I think it is going to be a great year for us. It’s going to be bigger than we’ve ever gone because [of] the 50th anniversary,” Grayson said.

Grayson said the resort is pushing to have at least “one event every weekend.”

Some of the ideas the resort is considering, Grayson said, include nighttime golf as well as a potential 24-hour race in the bike park. These events will complement resort mainstays such as the annual Winterfest, which was held Saturday.

“We want to get through these last couple of weeks of ski season first and we should have a nice calendar set up for the summer,” Grayson said.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park will experience a major change in 2015, with a new fee structure that could take effect May 1.

The new fee structure, which is pending approval from the National Park Service, will include $40 season passes, $10 and $15 single vehicle passes and $8 per-person passes.

Tim Smith, Front Royal Visitor Center coordinator, noted that they are concerned about how the fees might impact area visitation.

“I think anytime you increase the prices, it is going to have an effect on some of the visitation,” Smith said.

Karen Beck-Herzog, park public affairs officer, said that the park does not know how the adjusted fees might affect visitation, but noted that the last time the park changed fees was in 2006, and there was no drastic change in visitation.

In addition, the park will also be working toward the celebration of its 100th-year anniversary in 2016. Beck-Herzog said the National Park Service will unveil celebration plans this year.

“We will continue to work internally on some plans for that, and I hope that that will drive additional visitation to the park,” Beck-Herzog said.

She added that the park is looking to “take this opportunity to invite new audiences in and connect them to national parks across the nation.”

Front Royal marketing

Fresh off of the area’s first-ever Irish Festival, Power of Partnerships Alliance  will be looking to enhance the face of tourism in Front Royal and Warren County.

Alliance chairman Ken Thurman said they hope to launch new free social media applications from the proceeds of the Irish Festival. Thurman said the apps will most likely be launched this summer.

The apps will contain information on more than 300 organizations and activities that visitors can experience within 30 minutes of Front Royal. Thurman has said that the hope with the apps s to have them available on Google Play as well as the Apple Store.

Going international

Shenandoah County is part of a group of local county marketing directors who are taking advertising efforts overseas in 2015, thanks to partnership with Capitol Region USA.

French has noted that the county has seen requests and visits from international travelers in the past. This advertising will give the county access to markets in Germany, Brazil and China — among many others.

“It’s really exciting to see that interest out there … hopefully that is working for us and bringing in a new audience,” French said.

French noted that she has already seen international response with “a record number of visitor guide requests” in the month of January.

The county recently unveiled an updated version of the Shenandoah County wine and beer trail.

Appropriately re-branded as the “Sippin’ Shenandoah Wine and Beer Trail,” this update includes Swover Creek Farms — which recently added a brewer element — as well as Muse Vineyards, which is expected to open a new tasting room this year.

Robert Muse, part owner and operator, said the tasting room opening could be this summer or sometime in the fall.

French said the Woodstock Brewhouse is also expected to be completed and ready for its grand opening this summer.

Between the visitor guides, updated outdoor recreation guides and new events, French said she has high expectations for 2015.

“We hope that elevates us to that status of being a premier destination for outdoor recreation within the region,” French said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com