The directors of Blue Ridge Heritage Inc. (BRHI) gave a presentation April 16 at Chateau Morrisette Winery, unveiling plans for the Bi-County Heritage Education Center.
The event marked 11 years since the first Rocky Knob Advisory Group gathered at the winery to hear an announcement from then-Congressman Rick Boucher that federal transportation funding had been secured for a tourism-related project to enhance the economies of Patrick and Floyd Counties.
On Saturday, representatives of the nonprofit that coalesced from that first advisory group presented their latest milestone: a concept design and plan for the 31-acre site the organization acquired in the Rocky Knob area in 2012.
“For us to choose Chateau Morrisette, some might say this project has come full circle,” said Wayne Kirkpatrick, board president. “But it’s not a circle: This is a waypoint along a path to a sustainable facility that will attract visitors off the Blue Ridge Parkway and into the counties to visit businesses, attractions, and activities—to stay in our area longer, and to give visitors excellent reasons to financially partake of our region’s assets.”
The group handed out a “brief” of a master plan for the entire 31 acres. The full version as well as the brief will soon be available at the BRHI website, brheritage.org.
The concept design process began two years ago with the help of Roanoke’s Hill Studio, the leaders of a team of architects, designers, landscape professionals, energy-efficiency experts, and land use consultants.
The Blue Ridge Heritage group is “one giant step closer” to realization of an educational facility with trails and public use areas, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and adjacent to the Rocky Knob Recreation Area, a news release stated.
“This facility is not a destination in and of itself,” said Ralph Lutts, board member. “We envision the building to be a gateway for new residents and visitors to be introduced to the Bi-County area. At this facility they will meet local people who can tell them where to find existing businesses and amenities in the area, tailored to their specific interests.”
These “guided wanderings” are a key to the economic development aspects of the future education center.
“We envision ourselves as a ‘concierge’ to the Bi-County area,” said board member Steve Swartz. “We believe folks driving along our common border—the Blue Ridge Parkway—might notice the facility, and think, ‘that looks interesting. Let’s stop and take a look.’ Then when they ask the staff, ‘what’s there to do in the area?’ we will have someone local who can say, ‘I’m so glad you asked.’”
Whether they are interested in outdoor activities or history, local farming or “beverages with a kick,” visitors and residents will learn how to find what they seek, the release said.
“The planned facilities are not the stopping point,” reiterated Lutts, “but rather the beginning of an exploration into the cultural and natural heritage specific to Patrick and Floyd Counties.
“If we present a program or exhibit that could be transplanted anywhere in Appalachia, we’ve failed,” Lutts said. “We envision sparking the curiosity of visitors and showing them specific places in Floyd and Patrick where they can discover more.”
A video was presented at the event, in which the envisioned programs and on-site amenities were explained in more detail.
The over-arching theme of the exhibits and offerings to whet the appetites of guests is “A Century of Change,” the period from 1900 to 2000, from semi-subsistence living to globalization, according to the news release.
That time period wrought significant changes to the population, culture, and environment of the Bi-County region: two world wars, the Great Depression, the chestnut blight, the arrival of electricity in rural areas, the internal combustion engine, and building of the Parkway itself, and much more.
Even though the on-site facilities are being slowly phased into existence, with the main education center still some years away from realization, organizers are offering programs both on site and in the two counties.
Last year, the group offered bird walks and watches, two cultural/historical programs, several train-building workshops, and a fishing day for military veterans. The group has also built a partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation to restore American chestnut trees to the property.
A schedule of monthly programs, coupled with the interpretive offerings of the Blue Ridge Parkway staff, is planned for 2016.
The Century of Change will continue to be the focus for educational programs to be offered on the site. For example, changing cultural exhibits will be created both inside the future building and on the grounds, and educational programs will be conducted in the classrooms and on the land.
Programming is targeted not only to visitors but also to local school children and adults, graduate students and master gardeners, lifelong learners and special needs individuals.
“For the river of visitors who drive past the Bi-County area every summer, the on-site attractions are geared to draw some of that flow to the numerous amenities of the region, and to stimulate entrepreneurs to create even more opportunities here,” the news release said.
“Our area has the arts and the music covered through other organizations,” pointed out board member Lee Chichester. “We don’t want to compete with any of that. The third leg of the economic development stool for our area is outdoors activities, including cultural preservation—activities a person must be standing on the land in these two specific counties to experience.
“Our geography and geology are unique,” Chichester said. “Where we are has had tremendous bearing on the cultural heritage and natural history that developed here. Our goal is to partner with our neighbors, with local businesses, and with local government to find ways to share that, not only to enhance the economies of our homes, but also to preserve and augment the attractions people come here to experience.”