By Taylor Boyd
After serving as the director of Patrick County’s Tourism Office for more than five years, Sandra Belcher tendered her resignation, effective April 30. Belcher, who brought her sunny disposition to the post in 2017 now is ready to pursue other opportunities.
“I want to serve the community in a citizen’s capacity now,” she said.
Although she is not a native of the county, Belcher said she has always loved the area.
She recalled that during her interview for the post, “they said, ‘why do you want to market Patrick County,’ and I said ‘why not?’ It’s beautiful it’s got so many assets and amenities. The people are awesome, and everyone is so friendly,” she said.
Her successes are many and varied, but the creation of a Visitors Center and its certification with the Virginia Tourism Corporation are counted as her highest achievements, she said.
She explained the idea to create a separate facility to serve residents and visitors alike was the brainchild of Sarah Sheppard, a former tourism assistant.
The tourism office worked to first secure and then rehabilitate the space. Since opening in May 2021, the center has attracted 1,433 visitors from 26 states.
“Because the Visitor’s Center is like a go-to for the community as well as travelers, some people come in there and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know all of this was in Patrick County,'” Belcher said, adding the center allows tourism officials and the volunteers who operate it to better serve county residents and educate travelers about the area.
“We have the inside scoop of places to go, and we’re on task to point those travelers to places” where tourists “will spend their money,” Belcher said.
Also, during her tenure, Belcher was awarded $20,000 from the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) through its Wanderlove and Recovery Grants promotion, as well as approximately $900,000 for a sidewalk and trail in the Meadows of Dan community.
She also was awarded an Eco Ambassador Council (EAC) grant for a bike trail in Woolwine, organized the Lodging Association, and orchestrated a LOVEwork installation at Woolwine Park.
Belcher helped create the Friends of Patrick County Tourism Facebook page for tourism-related entities, helped to update the county’s tourism website, replaced several of the welcome signs at the county’s borders, and spearheaded efforts to install park signs.
Belcher said a favorite aspect of her job was connecting with the community and help it meet its goals, “as well as creating tourism partners. That’s been exceptional,” she said.
Under her guidance, the local tourism office partnered with several agencies to market the county, including the Blue Ridge Parkway Association (BRPA), Blue Ridge Travel Association, Fish Virginia First, and Virginia Association of Destination Marketing Organizations (VADMO).
Belcher said she and another member of the tourism department recently attended a VADMO symposium, and “we came back with all of these great ideas from other tourism directors. It’s really encouraging and nice to have someone to kick your ideas around with,” she said.
While she has accomplished much, there are things Belcher wishes she’d have done more of, such as conducting more marketing research to better promote the county’s attractions.
“The end goal, the thoughts are, I want to bring in as many travelers as possible so that they can spend money to increase expenditures so that the county could have more money for infrastructure,” she said, adding that she also wishes she had worked more with regional partnerships.
For instance, Belcher recalled that she and David Rotenizer, former director of Franklin County Tourism, discussed creating a Moonshine Trail through the two localities to capitalize on the moon-shining history and the “moonshine still in the Fairystone area.”
The experiences of the relationships she has cultivated throughout the years are among the things she will most miss, she said, adding those relationships are among the most cherished memories of her tenure.
Overall, Belcher said the position gave her the opportunity to connect with “a lot of good folks. Pure, good people that I love dearly. I admire what they’re doing for the community, and that says it all,” she said. “And they’re doing it without pay.
“This community is just incredible. There are so many pro-tourism folks that are very community-oriented,” she said. “I’m hoping to continue to connect with them, and the community, in a different way.”