Bath plans for Visitors Center back on track

After the Bath’s Supervisor’s made some conflict-filled moves regarding tourism last Fall, they took a few actions to get the ball rolling again. On Tuesday night, the 17th, board members listened as the public made sure there will be no more interruptions. Celine Pritt, tourism manager, gave the history of the tourism initiative, and how far the program has come since 2010.

“The tourism plans recommends that the county needs a visitors’ center and community center to provide a place for visitors to go to get information and a gathering place for the community. Further support for the Visitors’ Center Complex was made within the approved Economic Development Strategic Plan with the goal to leverage the county’s competitive advantage in resort lodging, recreation based tourism and mountain passing.”

Ms. Pritt clarified what may have been forgotten at the time the current board proposed using the Mitchelltown site for something other than a Visitors’ Center.

“The purchase closed on July One 2015. The purchase price was $325,000 and the land was paid for in full by tourism dollars. Funds for the purchase of the land came from reserves of Fund 16 of the tourism budget. The use of tourism funds is regulated by the state assembly.” Then county administrator, Ashton Harrison provided current figures available for this project, and a general comment.

“If there’s questions on how this is going to be paid for, whether it’s a loan or grants, it’s going to come out of the lodger’s tax fund, and I’m confident the lodger’s tax fund will be able to finance it. “

Ellen Ford of Millboro, spoke to the importance of keeping things simple.

“Start the plan with a clean site. You begin the planning and building free of hazards, environmental or financial, and free of structures later found to be in the way physically and financially, a clean eight acre plus site.”

John Cowden, owner of Fort Lewis Lodge, and member of the planning commission, also commented.   “An architecturally eye catching Visitor and Community Center is a chance to put our best foot forward. It should be the front door of all the adventures and experiences we have to offer. An attractive entrance will entice visitors to come in saying “Tell me more.”.

Jonah Windham, of the Vine Cottage Inn reminded everyone almost six months have been lost in the process, and that spring season is coming up fast.

“We must not stray from the goal of having a well-planned center that will be accredited by the state, that will provide for signing on the interstate to bring more people into Bath County.”

While this center will serve as a community-gathering place for local events and exhibits, it also will meet criteria enabling it to receive grants and guidance from the state. Some of the supervisors’ comments just before they voted to move ahead, indicated they understand the size and importance of the undertaking, and that they are open to Ms. Pritt and Mr. Harrison having assistance during demolition and construction.

Qualifications for a Certified Tourist Information Center, or CTIC, are outlined on the Virginia Tourism Corporation website.   Two of the essential ones are that the center be opened year round a minimum of five days per week, and that it be operated by a public entity, for example the county, or a publicly elected or appointed board.   So, after years of hard work by Maggie Anderson and Celine Pritt, two more steps are in place to bring the center from concept closer to reality.


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Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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