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Counties, cities included
in Countryside Trails project

By Jeanne Brunson

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 01 - August 27, 1998

Twenty-four Virginia counties and cities will be included in a Garden and Countryside Trails project connecting Blue Ridge Trails in Virginia and North Carolina, according to an announcement by HandMade in America and Virginia Tech's Public Service Programs.
The two organizations, working together to develop a trail through North Carolina and Virginia along the Blue Ridge Parkway, sought input from the counties and cities in a series of public meetings that began in August.
"The Garden and Countryside Trails of the Blue Ridge will be a system of self-guided auto loop trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway that will lead visitors to the rich horticultural and agricultural heritage of the region," said Charlotte Reed, economic-development specialist in tourism and technology at Virginia Tech.
The counties of Albemarle, Amherst, Augusta, Bedford, Botetourt, Carroll, Floyd, Franklin, Grayson, Montgomery, Nelson, Patrick, Roanoke, and Rockbridge, and the cities of Galax, Roanoke, Salem, Radford, Staunton, Waynesboro, Buena Vista, Lexington, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville will be included in the initial site inventory.
According to officials of HandMade in America, it is anticipated that both public and privately owned sites that meet site criteria will be included, such as public and private gardens, farms, orchards, vineyards, pick-your-own operations, farmer's markets, retail nurseries, specialty growers, garden-related hand-made craft shops, restaurants that serve indigenous foods, and lodging facilities that have gardens on the grounds or are located on farms or in natural areas.
One of the main criteria of the project is that communities themselves select which resources should be visited. An overarching goal is to protect those "sacred" areas or events that would be inappropriate to open to outside participation. To reach this goal, site inventories for the garden and countryside trail are being conducted by HandMade in America in collaboration with Public Service Programs through a series of multi-county/city meetings.
The project is part of a much broader plan called the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative. This initiative, formulated in 1996 to encourage heritage tourism development in southern Appalachia, brings together organizations involved in a broad range of activities, including natural-resource management, arts, culture, historic preservation, recreation, economic and community development, and planning.

Through this initiative, the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are collaborating to plan and implement the Blue Ridge Music, Cherokee Arts and Culture, and Garden and Countryside heritage trails. When completed by the year 2000, these heritage trails will link rural communities with one another and with the Blue Ridge Parkway. These new heritage trails, along with the Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina already developed by HandMade, will complete a system of four self-guided heritage trails with a network of sites that allow visitors to access the authentic heritage of the region.

"Heritage tourism offers a promising strategy to enhance the economy of the region. Increasingly, tourists using the Blue Ridge Parkway fit the profile of the heritage visitor--one who wants to experience the unique culture of a region as well as enjoy the scenery. Heritage tourists stay longer and spend more money to achieve that end," said Kim Yates, project manager for HandMade.
Using the parkway to link heritage trails is an idea pioneered by HandMade in America, a non-profit organization that developed seven craft trails that connect 22 counties of western North Carolina to the parkway. The Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative expands HandMade's heritage tourism model to three states and gives visitors opportunities to take advantage of the parkway as a gateway into rural communities that are willing and prepared to share their cultural heritage in appropriate settings.
For more information on the Garden and Countryside Trail project, call Yates at 828/252-0121 or Reed at 1-8386.