By Debbie Hall
Within months of opening, the Patrick County’s Visitor Center was named a state Certified Tourist Information Center.
In a Dec. 15 letter to Sandra Belcher, director of the Tourism Department, Rita McClenny, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), wrote that the local center had satisfied all the certification requirements.
“The Virginia Tourism Corporation is proud to have you included among this distinguished group,” McClenny wrote. “All of us at VTC look forward to working with you to promote the Patrick County Visitor Center as a tourist destination.”
In addition, the certification includes free annual distribution of one brochure at all twelve welcome centers in Virginia, bulk quantities of VTC publications, a prominent listing as a primary visitor resource in the Virginia Travel Guide, a prominent listing as a primary visitor resource in the VTC’s consumer website Virginia.org, and an annual two-day seminar designed specifically for visitor centers, according to Belcher and the letter.
Belcher recalled that in February 2021, she and her office began moving-in and remodeling the space at 126 North Main Street, in Stuart.
“Thanks to members of the Parks and Recreation, the Maintenance Department, and trustees for creating such an inviting space,” she said.
The Tourism Department officially debuted the center during National Tourism week in May, with events like the Willis Gap Jammers, Friends of JEB Stuart Reenactment, members of Bull Mountain Arts, rangers with Fairy Stone State Park, and demonstrations by staff at the Reynolds Homestead.
Since it began operations, the center “has been a one stop marketing billboard for all the county’s treasures, serving over 1,400 travelers, community folks and new residents last year,” Belcher said. “Our guestbook shows tourists from New Mexico, Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Stuart, Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, to name a few.”
Funds generated by the Transient Occupancy (or Lodging) Tax are used to operate the Visitors Center and market the county. Those revenues are paid by visitors who stay overnight in cabins, motels, Airbnb’s, and Primland Resort. Neither real estate, nor personal property taxes are used to pay for the center or its expenses, Belcher said.
The offerings at the center are varied, so they can be tailored to specific visitors’ interests.
“Our center not only provides suggestions, brochures, magazines, lodging and itineraries to travelers, but with the information in one central location, we are able to serve the county better by informing them of events, closed businesses, newly opened businesses,” Belcher said.
The local knowledge of businesses and availability also is useful, she said, adding that on many Friday afternoons, those manning the center are seeking “lodging finds for travelers that have not made reservations for the weekend.”
Belcher said the center also serves as a meeting place for community organizations such as the Master Gardeners and the Patrick County Young Professionals.
She is appreciative to the state, but Belcher said support from the community is the real driver behind the Visitors Center’s success.
“Special thanks to the Patrick County Board of Supervisors and the Tourism Advisory Council, for supporting this valuable initiative,” Belcher said. “Also, thanks to our Brand Ambassador Sue Kolljeski for her dedication to keeping the center open on weekends.”
Overall, “it’s been a super year at the Visitors Center,” Belcher said, adding the center is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.