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Area clinches four of 56 Virginia tourism grants

Jenna French

The Northern Shenandoah Valley reaped a large chunk of the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s annual grant money Tuesday, clinching four of the 56 tourism program awards for more than $80,000.

The largest grant, for $50,000, went to Shenandoah County’s “This is Our Rush Hour” campaign in D.C., and the rest of the funding was divided among Shenandoah Caverns, Discover Shenandoah, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and the Apple Blossom Festival.

Shenandoah County Director of Tourism Jenna French said these tourism dollars are especially critical for small-town Virginia communities.

“(For) rural regions, those dollars go a long way in helping support programs that we otherwise would not be able to do,” French said. “These funds really help extend our budgets to make an impact that we just couldn’t do individually.”

French said the county has been working on its “This is Our Rush Hour” campaign for over a year, but had not been able to get the D.C. part of the initiative off the ground before receiving the tourism corporation’s grant money.

The campaign includes wrapping D.C. Metro buses in advertisements showing off the green, natural scenery of Shenandoah County and playing videos advertising the region in select Metro stops.

“If people are sitting in rush hour in D.C., stuck behind a bus, or next to a bus, they can be staring at beautiful images of Shenandoah County, going, ‘Oh, that’s their rush hour. I’d rather be there,'” French said.

The next biggest grant recipient is the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, which will hold its 91st annual festival from April 27 to May 6.

Dario Savarese, the festival’s marketing and sponsorship director, said the organization has won VTC grants for several years now, but he doesn’t let himself get complacent.

“They refer to it as a ‘non-sustainable grant,’ and so what that means is organizations should not count on it, and we don’t,” Savarese said. “Each year we have to come up with a new set of goals, and you have to bring new ideas to the table.”

Savarese said the festival has invested in advertisements in local newspapers, has its own locally aired TV station, and sends a 16-page tabloid about the festival to households within a 60-mile radius of Winchester. The $24,250 from the VTC will help cover these initiatives as well as other costs, he said.

Another winner was the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which was awarded a grant to help launch the group’s augmented reality project. The program, which Terry Heder, director of interpretation, education and history, hopes to roll out by this summer or fall, is intended to immerse patrons in the history of the Civil War.

“The idea is that visitors will be able to put on augmented reality glasses that have both visual and audio and they will take a tour back in time, a walk through history, they’ll have people that will come to life … walking through the courtroom at the museum, that will tell different parts of the story during the war,” Heder said.

The project is being done in collaboration with Shenandoah University students, and will launch at the Old Court House Civil War Museum in downtown Winchester. If it’s a success, Heder said, the project will likely spread to other museums, highlighting the New Market Civil War museum as a probable second site.

The fourth area recipient, Shenandoah Caverns, plans to use its $6,000 grant to help fund its TV commercial campaign in D.C.

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