Study Reveals 'Crooked Road' Success
By JOE TENNIS | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | December 15, 2008*** This story was published Dec. 11, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
HILTONS, Va. ? After years of relying on anecdotal evidence, the leaders of The Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail are pointing to an independent study that says the 5-year-old plan to re-charge Southwest Virginia's economy with banjos and bluegrass music is humming to the tune of $23 million a year.
At a music-filled ceremony Wednesday at the Carter Fold near Hiltons, Va., the release of an economic study by Robert R. Jones of the Lebanon-based Sustainable Development Consulting International, LLC, revealed that The Crooked Road has produced the equivalent of 445 full-time jobs across a 10-county region, lying largely in Southwest Virginia.
Direct spending in the region from tourism visits is estimated at $12.9 million a year while the total economic impact is estimated at $23 million a year, according to Jones's report.
"There were a lot of anecdotal reports about the success of The Crooked Road," Jones said. But "the state and the funders wanted to collect data from the field and the visitors themselves."
Jones, the project manager of the $18,000 study, surveyed target communities on and off The Crooked Road. His firm conducted 253 interviews of visitors at music venues during 13 separate occasions during the summer of 2008.
Results indicate that:
** Accommodation spending increased by 232 percent in Galax from 2004 to 2007, and 67 percent in Clintwood from 2003 to 2007.
** Visitation at The Crooked Road's eight major venues for 2008 is estimated to be more than 109,000.
** And wages and sales tax benefits are greater than $400,000 a year to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
State Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, called the success of The Crooked Road the "equivalent of having a huge manufacturer locate in your community."
Formally in the works since 2003, The Crooked Road links a string of music venues and museums at Ferrum, Floyd, Galax, Bristol, Hiltons, Norton and Clintwood, ultimately terminating in the west at Breaks Interstate Park on the Kentucky border.
Money to fund the tourism initiative comes from a variety of sources, including local governments, the Virginia Tourism Corp., the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
"This was an unusual combination of the arts ... and melding that with economic development," said Ron Flanary, the first president of the board of directors of The Crooked Road.
The 253-mile-long trail traces its beginning to several sources. Among them is a much shorter driving trail, promoted about a decade ago by the Blue Ridge Travel Association, that linked Galax, the "World's Capital of Old-Time Mountain Music," along U.S. Highway 58 to The Carter Fold and the Homeplace Mountain Farm and Museum near Weber City.
At nearly the same time, plans began for Clintwood's Ralph Stanley Museum, which, due to its remote location, needed to be linked to other venues for marketing purposes, said Steve Galyean, director of development for the Virginia Tourism Corp.
That's when The Crooked Road took on its present form, leading visitors to music venues along U.S. 58 and several secondary highways.
Todd Christensen, the deputy director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, credits The Crooked Road with giving Southwest Virginia a new identity and making it one of the most-popular tourist destinations in the Old Dominion, ranking just behind Williamsburg and Virginia Beach.
The Crooked Road, in turn, translates into the sound of ringing cash registers, Jones said. "People who visit The Crooked Road are not just interested in mountain music."
Jones's report notes that 66 percent of visitors seek cultural and historical sightseeing plus agricultural destinations while in the area. In terms of shopping, Jones said, 63 percent want music-related items while 62 percent look for arts and crafts.
Gained a little
At the Carter Fold, The Crooked Road has helped "primarily with marketing," said Rita Forrester, the music venue's director.
"We didn't have a very big marketing budget," Forrester said. "And I think that they're doing right to lump all the venues together, doing the marketing that helps everybody."
About $1 million has been spent to market The Crooked Road since January 2006, said Jonathan Romeo, the project's interim executive director.
Visitors come to the Carter Fold primarily from the Tri-Cities but also Roanoke and Knoxville, according to Jones's report.
More visitors ? culled from Lynchburg, Wytheville and the New River Valley ? regularly show up at the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store.
The store's proprietor, Woody Crenshaw, said his venue has gained considerable fame ? including a front-page spread in USA Today ? while being a part of The Crooked Road.
"The Crooked Road has allowed the Floyd Country Store to be connected to the major music destinations of the region," Crenshaw said.
On a given night, about 400 to 500 people attend the music venue, and about one-third are usually tourists, Crenshaw said.
Efforts by the organization also have helped promote the Country Cabin, a music venue in Norton, said Bill Jones, president of the Country Cabin's overseeing organization, Appalachian Traditions.
"Without it," Bill Jones said, "we'd still be fledgling along."
Crenshaw said improvements still can be made in the organization.
"I think there are a lot of connections that need to be strengthened between the venues ? in terms of the World Wide Web, e-commerce," Crenshaw said. "And we can do a better job of embracing the musicians' community of Southwest Virginia."
Been a big deal
Guitarist Wayne Henderson, 61, a retired mail carrier from Rugby, Va., who performed at Wednesday's ceremony, called The Crooked Road "a big deal for us."
"It's certainly gotten me a lot more attention," said Henderson, who makes guitars at a shop near Rugby. "More people come to my shop. ... It's also gotten us gigs to come out and play."
For Galyean, Abingdon's former director of tourism, promoting The Crooked Road among officials in Richmond has been like a personal crusade.
In the capital city, Galyean said, grinning, "They knew this area had a rich potential."
... Wayne Henderson (Photo courtesy of The Crooked Road)
... and Anderson Strickland (Photo courtesy of The Crooked Road)