New Visitor's Center Opens on Highway 421 in Wilkesboro

By Joel Frady

An odd-shaped building sits on northbound N.C. Highway 421 in Wilkesboro, located between exits 282 and

285, that offers many of the things that a weary or curious traveler might desire: rest rooms and vending machines along with rows and rows of brochures detailing everything there is to see and do in a 10-county area.

This building - the Northwest North Carolina Visitor Center - opened its doors to the public on Thursday, Oct. 1, and has seen thousands of visitors in the days since. The center is also the first sustainable building constructed by the N.C. Department of Transportation, built with energy efficiency and water conservation in mind.

But for businesses in Ashe County, it isn't just another rest area - it's a direct connection to thousands of people that might be interesting in visiting Ashe County.

"It will be great for us," said Cabot Hamilton, executive director of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce. He noted that the Chamber provided two boxes of Ashe Visitor and Business guides to the visitor center - and almost all were gone in a week.

"It's been a huge pull," said Hamilton. "Those visitors are looking for things to do and places to go. ? All of the businesses that live and do their business in Ashe County need to be part of this visitor center to get the word out."

Regina Koons, who spent the last seven years with the Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce, is the manager of the center. She said that the Wilkes Chamber has "really embraced tourism as such a growing industry that if we serve our visitors and our travelers, they can spend more time, more money and get more enjoyment in these counties."

She said the facility was built not only to give travelers a rest stop, complete with a walking trail, but as "an educational tool" for a 10-county area that goes from Surry and Yadkin counties on the east to Avery County on the west.

Koons said she hopes to create a "definite economic impact, for the region and for the state," and also encouraged Ashe County businesses to "make sure they get their brochures here, especially seasonal information" such as information about annual festivals in the weeks and months leading up to the events.

Although the center will display brochures for many businesses and attractions, they keep brochures for restaurants and outlets behind the counter due to regulations. Anyone interested in having their brochures available at the center also has to send a copy of the brochure to the N.C. Division of Tourism for approval.

Hamilton said that, to his knowledge, "anyone who has sent in a letter" has gotten approval. When visiting the center on opening day, he said he was "very pleased" with the number of Ashe businesses already on display.

"We now have a place that is going to help direct and guide visitors once they get on top of the mountain," he said. He later added that the staff of the center is "warm, friendly and ready to promote Ashe County," and recommends that Ashe citizens and business owners "let them know we care what they're doing" so they'll work even harder to promote Ashe County.

Koons noted that "it's amazing how many people walk out the doors [of the center] with bundles of brochures in their hands."

The center also provides an opportunity for local artists, as art from two rotating counties will be displayed on the walls of the center at any given time.

To submit a brochure for approval, send it to: Director of Visitor Services, N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, 4324 Mail Services Center, Raleigh, NC 27699.

Once they respond with a letter of approval, send a copy of that letter and the approved rack cards or brochures to: Northwest North Carolina Visitor Center, 2501 East U.S. Highway 421, North Wilkesboro, NC 28659.

To find out more, contact the Northwest North Carolina Visitor Center at (336) 667-1259 or the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce at (336) 846-9550.


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