Monte Mitchell, Winston-Salem Journal

WILKESBORO —Thousands of tourists drive through Yadkin, Surry, Caldwell and Wilkes counties on their way to the mountains, but the counties have launched a major new program meant to position the Yadkin Valley as a destination for tourists to stop and visit.

The counties are members of the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership, which on Tuesday unveiled a new logo, visitor brochure, website, visitor kiosks and signs that are part of the effort to promote the upper Yadkin Valley as a place where visitors can enjoy recreation, cultural heritage and wineries.

“We’re getting a lot of pass-through tourists who go into the High Country,” said Eddie Barnes, Wilkes County’s planning director and chairman of the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership. “We want to designate this area as a tourist destination in itself.”

The area includes sites such as the Caldwell County home of Revolutionary War hero William Lenoir, built in 1792, and the Wilkes Heritage Museum in the 1902 former courthouse. There are historical sites associated with Daniel Boone and Tom Dula. There are miles of greenways and cycling trails, 36 wineries, and places such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Stone Mountain and Pilot Mountain state parks, and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

The corridor runs for nearly 130 miles along the Yadkin River.

The new Wayfinding Program will help people realize there are lots of assets in the rural communities, and provide brochures and other resources to link them together, Barnes said. The group is seeking more grant funding to place the visitor kiosks and signs in the region.

Project Manager Helen Ruth Almond has been working on the economic development strategy.

“The partnership has been working closely with MERJE Design,” she said. “They are one of the top-rated environmental design agencies in the country and have extensive experience in North Carolina and in rural communities.”

Lynn Minges, assistant secretary for tourism, marketing, and global branding for the N.C. Department of Commerce, said the initiative will be a prototype for other rural counties working on economic development.

The Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership was established in 2005 with the four counties seeking to increase recreation opportunities and draw tourists through the Wayfinding Program.

The corridor could generate between $4 million and $6 million a year in economic impact once it is fully developed, according to a 2008 study by DESS Business Research.

Funding for the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership includes a $165,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation and a $125,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, as well as contributions from each of the four counties. (336) 667-5691

(c) Winston-Salem Journal.

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