The Howard family
The Howard family: From left: Garrett, Ben, Dad Landon, Mom Lynne and Jaclyn.
A few weeks back, my family moved up from the Gulf Coast to Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. My two youngest (8 and 10), had never been to what my daughter Jaclyn, the 8-year-old, describes as “a really tall mountain.”
So the Howard family decided to take a big adventure along the Blue Ridge Parkway. But the question was: “What do you take to the mountains?”
See, we had the beach routine down … umbrella, sunscreen, sand shovel and buckets, floats. But this was all new. So began the scramble to find our camera, binoculars, hiking shoes, snacks, sunglasses, hats, etc.
Once we were on the Blue Ridge Parkway – destination, Peaks of Otter – the questions and observations started. Why didn’t we bring a picnic like all the other people? Dad, are we going to see a bear? When can we get mountain bikes? Wow, we can see down on both sides of the road… just like being in an airplane.
Once we arrived at the Peaks of Otter, we discovered the lake, the restaurant, and took a hike up to the Johnson Farm, to learn how people lived before air conditioning and grocery stores.
Late in the afternoon, when we got back into the van, my wife Lynne said, “I sure wish we could stay here longer.” With pride I said, “Hey we live here now… we can come back anytime.”
And as much as we enjoyed our first mountain minivacation, I couldn’t quite get my professional hat off completely. Because tourism – what my family and I were undertaking – is, in my field, simply no vacation!
It is, in fact, a major economic force in our region that is often taken for granted. Communities throughout America spend millions of dollars to build theme attractions including aquariums, theme parks, etc. And we, it became all the more clear to me that day, have a natural theme attraction … The Blue Ridge Mountains!
And central to that natural attraction is that roadway, now closing out its 75th anniversary year. Thanks to the vision of leaders those many decades back, millions of visitors have come to this region and billions of their dollars have helped generate tens of thousands of jobs.
What does this mean to the Roanoke Valley’s economy? Quite a bit:
- $657 million in annual tourism spending
- 7,300 local jobs
- $135 million in local employee earnings
- $5 million in lodging tax collections
It is easy to throw around big numbers, but what does this really mean? What is tourism?
Tourism is one of the largest service industries in the world. We must fight for our fair share. To do this, we must collaborate with communities along the parkway to bring more visitors to this beautiful region.
Tourism is about making money, creating good paying jobs, and generating tax collections that support schools, police and many other services.
The Blue Ridge Mountains and the parkway communicate who we are as a people. Scots-Irish and German emigrants many years ago developed a unique culture including music and entertainment, farming and food, mining and railroading. People, the world-over, will pay big money to come discover what we are blessed to have every day.
Tourism is about learning, enrichment, fellowship, memories, a sense of belonging … a togetherness that we all long for.
During the Howard family’s Blue Ridge Parkway adventure, I never heard … “Dad, are we there yet?” Instead: “When can we go back?” “This was the best day!” And, “Can I take my hiking stick to my bedroom?”
Aren’t we lucky to call this place home? Let’s invite others to come experience what we are blessed with every day!