The Bedford County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved a spending plan presented by the tourism department to use $140,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money designated for tourism recovery across Virginia.
A total of $50 million in ARPA money was allocated by the Virginia General Assembly in 2021 to “revitalize the tourism industry” following impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Distribution of these funds was based on the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s annual Economic Impact of Visitors Report, and localities’ “relative share of 2019 state tax revenue attributable to tourism,” according to county documentation.
Bedford County’s tourism department identified five qualifying priorities for local tourism initiatives.
One project is development of a Bedford Craft Beverage Trail — something Nicole Johnson, director of tourism for Bedford County, said staff has been wanting to pursue for a long time but has not had the opportunity to.
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Through this rebranding of the existing Bedford Wine Trail, new wineries would be added, and the route would include local craft breweries, meaderies, and cideries. A new name, logo and mobile app would be created, and advertising through multiple mediums would be pursued, including a new website, photo galleries, video content, and advertisements.
The continued development and marketing of Bedford County as a disc golf destination is another initiative to be supported with the ARPA money.
Sports tourism in Virginia overall has been growing, and Bedford County found a niche sports tourism market in disc golf, which is growing in popularity. The county has five public disc golf courses and is home to world-champion disc golf player Paul McBeth, who helped design a championship-level disc golf course in the New London Business and Technology Center in Forest. Kenny Palmer, parks and recreation operations coordinator for Bedford County and a disc golf advocate, said the sport began to boom in the county during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it offered a safe, outdoor activity for people to enjoy together.
Bedford County received a separate Virginia Tourism Corporation grant earlier this year in the amount of $19,590 to support “Destination Bedford Disc Golf,” capitalizing on this niche the county began focusing on several years ago. During that time, disc golf has drawn many visitors from outside the area to Bedford County.
At least 400 people from about 20 states flocked to the county for the fourth annual Battle for Bedford Disc Golf Tournament in October, Palmer said the week leading up to the tournament.
“We are well positioned to be a top disc golf destination in Virginia, and even the East Coast,” Johnson said.
A third initiative is amping up the marketing of Bedford County as a year-round destination for fishing. According to Johnson, fishing is one of the most popular forms of outdoor recreation within the county.
Fourth on the list is market expansion for Bedford County’s major sites that draw national and international visitors. Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway area and the National D-Day Memorial are three major tourism attractions. Through expanded marketing initiatives, Johnson said the tourism department hopes to bring in more overnight visitations.
Finally, the tourism departments plan to build photo gallery assets, updating the Destination Bedford website and social media platforms with fresh photos and digital content that showcase Bedford County as a year-round destination.
“The intended outcome for everything mentioned is to increase awareness of what Bedford has to offer, increase overnight stays, help support local businesses, and generate new and repeat visits by day-trippers,” Johnson said.
District 3 Supervisor Charla Bansley said at the Nov. 28 meeting she supports the tourism initiatives, especially sports tourism. She remarked on the surge in sports tourism as a draw in the Commonwealth, and wanted to capitalize on Bedford County’s disc golf destination status, as well as fishing.
“I’m just really excited that we’re going toward more sports tourism and that we’re really focusing on it,” Bansley said.