By Stephen Smoot
In 1968 Pendleton County launched a festival that encapsulated all that defined the wonders of the area, including the plant and wildlife, fresh mountain streams, winding hiking trails, and historical drama.
Over a half century later, the treasures of the festival also include a significant boost for the local economy as well. Steve Roberts, executive director of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce describes their impact, saying, “Fairs and festivals bring much more than fun to areas. They bring locals and visitors alike, stimulating growth and providing clear economic benefits while celebrating community.”
Tammy Linaburg from the Korner Shop Cafe agrees. She says, “each year it gives us a little boost to get back ahead.” With some lingering economic effects of the pandemic still bedeviling businesses, she admitted “it’s been tough this year.”
Laura Brown, executive director for the Pendleton County Economic Development Authority also cited the Korner Shop as one that benefits from the festival, saying they “extend their hours to better serve the public.”
Brown went on to describe broader economic benefits, saying “first quarter lodging taxes for the county are always the largest,” indicating that local hotels and other lodging businesses experience a surge in business.
Local entrepreneurs also take advantages of opportunities by serving as festival vendors. Their efforts not only earn profits, but offer unique food and other products as a major part of the attraction. Brown noted that “One vendor who said it was her 24th fourth year at the festival and this year was as strong as any.”
Although specific figures are unavailable for Pendleton County and the Treasure Mountain Festival, the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins was estimated to have brought a $25.8 million total impact to Randolph County in 2006. While the impact of COVID could have devastated some efforts across the state, Governor Jim Justice in 2020 allotted $1.1 million to help to keep them alive.
COVID’s continued aftereffects, particularly on the employment market, have made it difficult for some to take full advantage. Stephen Miller, owner of the Star Hotel and Restaurant, says that where he once employed 13, now only four remain on staff. While he could benefit from the extra business, “it takes 10 – 12 (staff) to handle Saturday at the Treasure Mountain Festival.”
Like many businesses all over, it boils down to “a lack of finding good help.”
Miller also shared that concentrating the festival in the bottomlands near the river could limit the economic benefit, suggesting that organizers should “spread it around so it’s not all congested as it is now.” He said that putting all of the attractions in the same general area may be more convenient in some ways, but it also potentially reduces the total amount of time and money spent by locals and tourists.
Churches and civic organizations also see big benefits from the festival. The South Fork Ruritan Club, among many others, perform their most effective fundraising then. As club members explained, “For our organization, TMF is our main fundraising event for the year.” Proceeds from fundraising activities “sustain our organization’s operating costs for the year.”
Other organizations benefit indirectly from the ripple effect of the club’s successful fundraising, which allows it “to offer our building for community events and organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for a discounted rate.” According to Brown, “some of the civic organizations boost their highest fundraisers of the year in just this one weekend.”
Festivals can boost tourist spending all year long. Ideally attendees come to a place for the first time, or the first time in a long time. They appreciate what the area has to offer and they come back to experience more of it, but tourists are not the only source of support. “One of the most important indicators of success for the festival is our community’s participation,” Brown added. She went on to say that “Anyone local can tell you that they either volunteered or visited some aspect of the festival itself.”
Recent numbers suggest that state tourism as a whole continues to thrive. Last week, Governor Jim Justice issued a statement showing West Virginia’s tourism economy has expanded by nearly four percent over pre-pandemic levels while numbers nationwide show an overall 27 percent drop. Projections for 2022 indicate a possible $5 billion total spent by tourists in the state, which would be the first time the state passed that milestone.
As West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby said “we actually did better this year than we were doing before the pandemic . . . we’ve been able to thrive in spite of the challenges the last few years have brought.”
With events like the Treasure Mountain Festival providing a key catalyst for success, both Pendleton County and the state as a whole should continue to reap rewards.