Fall tourism in Ashe continues to rise

Wil Petty Staff Writer

November 17, 2013

Tourism in Ashe County during the autumn months continues to increase, and numbers from the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce are showing that.

In September, the Visitors Center in West Jefferson had 1,376 people visit and was the highest number recorded for the month since 2003. In October, there were 1,815 visitors, which is the highest number recorded for October.

“In talking with members of the chamber, it appeared to be a very successful season,” said Cabot Hamilton, executive director of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce. “In numbers of visitors into the Visitor’s Center itself, we were up considerably over last year.”

The chamber has expanded its hours from July to October to stay open until 8 p.m., which has some role in the number increase. Hamilton believes the government shutdown in October also played a role in the increase for that month.

During October, businesses along the Blue Ridge Parkway were shut down. The parkway, which draws approximately 15 million visitors a year along its 469-mile route, winds through Ashe County.

“In October, when the government was shutdown we had a large increase in visitors,” he said. “We are almost certain that good portion of the increase was because people were coming off the Parkway to find lodging eating and shopping.”

The Ashe County Arts Council has also been busy throughout the fall season.

“(The Arts Center) has been busy,” said Rebecca Williams, programs director for the arts council. “There seems to be a lot of people from out of town visiting.”

While the Arts Center has remained bustling this season, the number of visitors into the building has not seen a large increase.

“(Visitation) has been about the same,” Williams said. “We are always very busy during the fall season. People come to the Arts Center to shop and look.”

Williams said most of the people who are coming in from out of town are showing up during the Arts Center’s business hours.

“As far as our events are concerned, we don’t draw the out of towners as much,” she said.

Also remaining busy is the Museum of Ashe County History in Jefferson.

“We have done very well for the fall season,” said Ramona Renfroe, director of the museum.

Renfroe said events such as Oktoberfest, held in conjunction with Jefferson’s Autumn Leaf Festival played a role in bringing more visitors into the museum. The tourism season has also given the museum a boost in visitation.

“A lot of tourists come through during the leaf watching season,” she said. “We are anticipating another bump in our attendance during the choose and cut season in a few weeks.”

The different events occurring throughout the Olde Towne area of Jefferson, as well as a generated interest in the Old 1904 Courthouse have brought more people into the museum. The increase in attendance has been massive.

“We have more than doubled our visitation for this year,” Renfroe said.