By Stephen Smoot
Not long ago, the Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau operating both independently and effectively was merely a vision and the beginnings of a plan.
Boy what a difference a year makes.
During the past year, under the leadership of executive director Amber Nesselrodt and the board of directors, the CVB has succeeded in not only establishing itself, but sprinting out of the gate.
The group celebrated those accomplishments at a year end dinner held before Christmas at Swilled Dog Distillery in Upper Tract.
First the board and other officials enjoyed a small homemade buffet lunch that included dessert. Then Nesselrodt called the meeting to order.
The marketing committee opened official discussion with the budget and preliminary plans for 2024. Nesselrodt discussed how the CVB could take advantage of opportunities through cooperation with other nearby communities, both county and city. Annie Humes, board member, stated that “West Virginia Tourism encourages cohesive branding across county lines,” and added that such efforts had more likelihood of earning grants.
Committee members then discussed the focus of promotional materials. Bryan Williams, a board member who also announced his resignation later in the meeting, suggested that “the big attraction to Pendleton County is outdoor recreation. I’d love to dive into goals for that.”
Humes stated, “I agree that’s the biggest activity,” but asked “what are the other tourism products?” She said that they had tried to identify activities or sites that fit other categories. With limited resources, the group concluded that it had to pick points of emphasis wisely.
Williams said of the guide created by the CVB, “It’s a great document. It’s exactly what we are looking for.”
Humes said of plans, programs, and opportunities for 2024, “some already exist. Some are being nurtured.”
Lindsay Kazarick briefly discussed plans for Sweetwater Farms in Sugar Grove to expand its trail and related offerings in April. Williams added that he’d like to see specific mapping of hiking and biking trails. “I’ve seen these asset maps get created over and over,” he stated, additionally stating that “focus on presentation” is a must.
With the resignation of Williams and other members, the board took up the question of filling out its membership. Williams stated that he had little time to fulfill his current CVB commitments, but offered to remain available as a resource to help the group when needed.
Katie VanMeter came to present the case for herself and her husband to both join the board. She shared that, although from Hampshire County originally, her husband Jared is from Franklin and she has lived in the county for 16 years. They have worked to open lodging near Brandywine this month and last year bought the historic McCoy House in Franklin to operate as a bed and breakfast and events venue.
“We’ve been doing open houses,” she said about her and her husband’s work with the McCoy House, “we’re getting ready to do more renovations.” They also own Deep Clean Machines Laundromat in Franklin.
VanMeter described their love of interactive style events, saying, “We are medieval recreationists.” Events that they have organized have attracted as many as 2-300 attendees.
“We just know that we want to help Pendleton County,” she concluded.
Another interested individual, Cory Thomas from T&K Markets in Franklin, offered to put his experience in running a market, combined with academic degrees in agro-business and rural development, to work for the CVB. Jeff Munn stated that the market has been “incredibly helpful” to tourism efforts and that Thomas also served on the board of the Pendleton County Economic Development Authority.
Munn also pointed out Thomas’s ability to secure licenses for events that might include alcohol, such as wine or beer tastings.
The board approved membership for Katie VanMeter and Cory Thomas.
Less than two months away, the state will hold its first round of Maple Days events. Last year, Kent Leonhardt, West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture, came to Franklin to help celebrate.
CVB board members and officials first discussed how to best market the February event. Kazarick noted that Future Generations University received a United States Department of Agriculture federal grant to assist with marketing efforts. FGU is also compiling a list of maple producers, as well as lodging, including bed and breakfast establishments.
She added that “the biggest way to promote it is through social media” to generate word of mouth interest.
In the director’s report, Nesselrodt touched on a number of highlights, including the Appalachian Forest Natural Heritage Area grant to promote awareness of county cultural assets. She also discussed talks with the Pendleton County Historical Society on how best to promote and plan the centennial of the disastrous Franklin fire.