The tanks and the trucks have been loaded onto flatbed trucks. The numerous artifacts from Greene County’s Vietnam War Foundation and Museum—both big and small—are making their way to a new home in Nelson County. Greene residents should be mourning not only the loss of the museum itself but also a lost opportunity to capitalize on the growing tourism trend. We wonder if Greene County isn’t sending mixed messages when it comes to tourism.
Ruckersville resident Craig LaMountain, a Vietnam veteran himself, erected the museum on his property about a dozen years ago. Charlottesville schools were the only public schools who ever toured the museum, he said.
“We tried for years to stay in Greene County, to find it a more permanent place,” he said last fall. “Greene didn’t have the land for it, they said. Nelson came to us.”
How very sad, not just for the LaMountains, but for Greene County residents as a whole. Nearly every discussion among local leaders seems to center on or circle back to tourism, especially in relation to a proposed new visitor center in Ruckersville. Yet many residents have asked the question: what attractions does the county have to draw people to it?
Yes, we’re one lucky county to have Shenandoah National Park (SNP) in our backyard. We know many people stay in our cabins and inns and enjoy the quiet beauty we’re blessed with every day—from hiking trails to the wildlife. In 2018, 1.3 million visitors enjoyed SNP, bringing $87 million to communities near the park. That spending supported 1,077 jobs in the local areas, with a cumulative benefit to the local economies of $116 million, according to recent SNP figures.
Wow, those figures are nothing to sneeze at, but as the saying goes it’s not wise to put all our eggs in one basket. What other ways can we encourage visitors and give them something to do while in Greene County that in turn enhance the quality of life for our local residents?
What events entice outsiders to come to Greene County, or offer them something to do within our borders while they’re here? Some of our biggest and best draws—the July 4th event, Strawberry Festival and our fantastic historical museum in Stanardsville are all volunteer-driven. We have local restaurants, but in the past few months two have closed their doors. Where are our visitors eating, if not in Greene? Other local events are nascent, such as the Oktoberfest and the Greene Beer Festival, but could grow with additional support, both in terms of staffing and financial support.
In 2018, visitors to Greene County spent more than $5 million, $100,000 into the county’s general fund coffer and $150,000 that is earmarked by state code to go toward tourism.
We feel strongly the county’s general fund should be used toward education, public safety, social services and other core functions of government. The question we’re faced with is what to do with those tourism dollars. Currently county officials are considering whether to reinvest those funds to promote and grow the tourism economy. The county is considering purchasing a one-acre property in front of Lowe’s on U.S. Route 29 for $1 million to house a visitor center and offices for the economic and tourism director and office manager that it will pay off in the next 40 years.
Does the visitor center itself help promote tourism of attractions within Greene County and without? Yes, that’s a no-brainer. Is the property viable for additional options—like a small park? Yes. Will there still be projected funds of TOT dollars even after the cost of the mortgage each year? Yes, and we have no reason to doubt the figures presented. Does it enhance the quality of life for our local residents? We are still unsure.