Jule Hubbard Wilkes Journal-Patriot

The Wilkes County commissioners on Tuesday night approved the design of signs welcoming motorists to the Yadkin Valley in the four counties and agreed to seek federal funding for smaller signs directing people to notable area sites.

The signs are among efforts to market the upper Yadkin Valley in Wilkes, Caldwell, Surry and Yadkin counties as a destination, much like the Outer Banks and the Grand Strand on the coasts of North Carolina and South Carolina respectively, said Wilkes County Planning Director Eddie Barnes.

Barnes, chairman of the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership, said “Welcome to the Yadkin Valley” signs would go up on U.S. 421 at the Wilkes-Watauga county line and the Wilkes-Yadkin county line, in Caldwell County near the intersection of U.S. 321 and N.C. 268 and on Interstate 77 at the North Carolina-Virginia line.

He said about 70 smaller “wayfinding” signs along roads in areas of Wilkes outside municipalities would direct motorists to about 30 cultural, recreational, agribusiness and heritage sites of interest in Wilkes. These sites are both within and outside the towns.

Barnes said municipal governments would have to provide the local match for federal grant funds awarded for signs placed within the towns.

Barnes said wayfinding signs proposed for all four counties carry an estimated cost of $300,000 to $400,000. The corridor extends from Lenoir in the west to near East Bend in the east.

The plan is to fund 80 percent of this with a National Scenic Byways grant, with the other 20 percent coming from local governments in the four counties. Barnes said total cost of the wayfinding signs proposed for areas of Wilkes outside the municipalities is $30,000, with $24,000 of this funded with the grant and $6,000 from Wilkes County government.

Gary D. Blevins, elected chairman of the Wilkes commissioners Monday night, said $6,000 seemed like a small amount of money compared to the potential economic benefits.

Barnes said the N.C. Department of Transportation has already approved the design of all of the signs. He said informational kiosks at visitors centers are also planned.

The Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership has already been awarded $328,000 including $318,000 in grant funding, for an economic impact study, creating and printing brochures, development of a website and other planning and marketing efforts.

The economic impact study found that the project could bring $4 million to $6 million annually to the region in visitor spending and up to 75 jobs.

N.C. 268 and N.C. 67 provide a route for driving the length of the corridor, but plans include securing easements for walking and other non-motorized travel in sections that don’t already have greenways or other trails for a 130-mile-long route.

A copy of the master plan for the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor, developed in 2009, can be found here.

(c) Wilkes Journal-Patriot

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