Area has tourist hot-spot potential

January 14, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County and Martinsville could be a fisherman's dream and a vacation hot spot for nature enthusiasts, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) executive.

Because the Smith River is regarded as one of the top 100 trout streams in the United States, the area "could be a fishing Mecca," Senior Attorney Kay Slaughter told the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on Thursday. She did not cite her source for the river's ranking.

"I think people would love to come float in the river ... or just sightsee," she said.

The SELC is working with Rivers to Trails, a local group that organized a few months ago, to figure out "how interests can be leveraged" to promote the community as a tourist destination and spur recreation opportunities here, Slaughter said.

Included in the group, which has been meeting monthly, are area residents, business leaders and government officials. By July 1, she said, members hope "to have a permanent organization" in place to help develop new recreational attractions, draw attention to historical sites and seek funds for such projects.

The recent Market Street study suggested that developing tourism will help improve the area's quality of life, and the chamber supports that notion.

Slaughter, a former mayor of Charlottesville, where the SELC is based, told the chamber board that on visits to Henry County and Martinsville, she has realized "there really is a lot, if you enjoy the outdoors."

After watching a slide show of landmarks and local scenery presented by Slaughter, board Chairman Kevin Farrell said that people who pass by those attractions each day may not realize how beautiful they are.

Among the ideas Slaughter offered to encourage tourism was setting up walking and biking trails along the Smith and Mayo rivers and railroad tracks. Area parks could be connected by trails, which eventually could be connected with similar paths in nearby counties, she said.

Slaughter added she hopes that by July Rivers to Trails can develop, or have a consultant prepare, a plan to establish new trails.

She also encouraged promotion of lesser-known historical and cultural sites such as the Native American rock weir in the Smith River near Martinsville and the old Rock Run school near Fieldale, which was used to educate African-Americans.

Slaughter told chamber officials to "think outside the box" and come up with ideas for attractions that differ from common notions about tourism.

In other matters Thursday, the chamber board:

Heard from George Lester, the board's vice chairman of organizational improvement, regarding the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia's (SCHEV) suggestion that plans for a proposed new Southside university be postponed for about a year.
"At the least, we're disappointed," he said. "I think some of the findings are faulty."

Lester especially took issue with SCHEV's statement that the university could increase expected enrollment demand hikes at state schools instead of helping lower them, because it would lead to a new market of rural college applicants.

The purpose of universities is to teach students, so they must have applicants, he reasoned.

Approved seven new chamber members. They are Childress & Associates, City and County Properties, Mar-Villa Apartments, Dennis Reeves, First Health Center, MasterBrand Cabinets Inc. and Ronald England.
Curves of Collinsville recently dropped its membership. As a result, the chamber now has 532 members.


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