FRONT ROYAL – Anyone in search of the picturesque views the Appalachian Trail has to offer but without the physical ability to tackle the monster hike has a new stop in the valley as the town prepares to become the northernmost member of the Appalachian Mural Trail.
Spanning 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail serves as a physical journey and spiritual experience for hundreds of hikers every year — and a tourism boom for towns and cities that dot the edges.
Garry Green, the owner of Mountain Trails, said he had a vision for a mural that would encapsulate the outdoor spirit of the town while branching out from being just another spot along the A.T., as its devotees call it.
“One of our goals is to designate Front Royal as an outdoor recreation community, along the lines of Boulder, Colorado,” Green said. “It is just tailor-made for outdoor recreation enthusiasts.”
Felicia Hart, director of tourism and development in Front Royal, said the mural trail will help the town attract outdoor enthusiasts as well as a more niche market that is less adventurous.
“Being able to join the Appalachian Mural Trail will give us access to a whole other target audience of people who travel just to see these murals,” Hart said. “It’s really cool to get people involved with this kind of project.”
Perched on scaffolding outside Green’s store downtown, Jacquelyn “Jacqui” Rhis, a 20-year-old art major at Virginia Commonwealth University, and now commissioned artist, toiled away putting Green’s vision up in paint.
Green saw some work Rhis did on another building in town and said he saw a kindred spirit, someone who was making art the way he has been thinking about it.
“The style of artwork spoke to me,” Green said. “The spacialization, the colorization, the way that she was very detailed without being animated or character-like. It was very realistic.”
Green commissioned the piece downtown, footing the bill and keeping financial pressure off of Hart and the town.
Hart said this mural comes at a good time for the town as it plans to seek state funding for more public art projects. Because funding is limited, Hart said, she is working to make a plan for the kinds of murals the town is looking for before making any commitments.
“We’re trying to put together a game plan,” Hart said. “We don’t want to just have 20 murals of people who just decided they want to paint something.”
In the end, the murals not only add to the flavor and character of the town but they also help tell a story, Hart said. That story and history are all part of what makes Front Royal a destination.
“What they’re tying in is they’re showing the local flavor, the local history, which is what murals do,” Hart said. “They help people understand, especially the newcomers into your community, help them understand a little bit of the history … murals like this are what get people talking.”