Visitors Center to open soon

Avondale, under construction as the county's new Visitors Center. Rappahannock News Staff Photo/Roger Piantadosi.

Developed on a shoestring budget that will rely on the voluntary support of private donors — and the fees it will charge for tourism-related businesses who wish to place information there — the Rappahannock County Visitors Center is starting to look amazingly lifelike.

A renovation crew is working most days at the Visitors Center to meet a Memorial Day finish date. It is composed primarily of trustees, or trusted inmates from the jail, who are using materials paid for by funds already in the budget for improvements at Avondale. This is the small county-owned farmhouse next to the library which the county eventually intended to use as offices (and still plans to, as funds are available to renovate the as-yet-untouched second floor).

The Tourism Advisory Group, appointed this winter to get the center off the ground and pursue other longer-term county tourism goals, has hired a part-time manager. Sandra Maskas, of Amissville, a retired mental health social worker and 30-year resident of the county, began her 20-hour work week this week.

“I fell in love with Rappahannock a long time ago,” Maskas said.

She’ll be overseeing the “core group” of about a dozen volunteers who came for TAG-sponsored training last week, in addition to the eight or so business owners who have volunteered to act as alternates or fill-in help.

Visitors Center volunteer training. Photo by Ray Boc.

The Visitors Center will be open Friday-Sunday (and Monday holidays), and it sits directly on the highest-traffic stretch of road in the county. (Recent Virginia Department of Transportation stats identified that stretch as U.S. 211 between U.S. 522 at Massies Corner and the western town limits of Washington).

The TAG is shooting for an opening date of Memorial Day, said group chair Sherri Fickel, co-owner of Sperryville’s Hopkins Ordinary B&B.

Maskas has broad experience in the community services field and has managed volunteers in a number of arenas, including the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board and Fauquier Hospital. She will report to Laura Overstreet, tourism consultant in the Rappahannock County Office of Tourism.

The Tourism Advisory Group is inviting all Rappahannock County businesses, both tourism and non-tourism alike, to place marketing brochures or business cards at the center.

It will cost $100 a year for businesses, $75 annually for non-profit organizations, to do that.

Each business or organization will be provided space on wall-mounted holders for a brochure or rack card and/or surface space for a business card, Overstreet said.

“The Tourism Advisory Group sees the Visitors Center as an information resource for all Rappahannock County businesses and non-profit organizations,” Fickel said.

“While the primary mission of the Visitors Center is to ‘welcome, inform and guide visitors to the many, diverse experiences of the County and inspire them to return,’” Fickel added, “we also hope that our residents will use the center as a source of such information for themselves and for their guests, and that visitors to the county seeking information beyond tourism-related experiences will find the center helpful.”

“Rappahannock County is a small and interconnected community and the TAG feels strongly that the Visitors Center should become a connecting point for businesses, non-profit organizations and the general public.”

Maskas has begun contacting businesses and organizations within the county to offer the opportunity for brochure placement — explaining both the process and fees required for placement.

A parallel effort is under way to secure additional funds for the ongoing operations of the Visitors Center. While the donation of Avondale farmhouse and its refurbishment was made possible within the existing budget of the county, Overstreet said, all operating costs are being covered through funds raised in the community.

The Rappahannock Hospitality & Visitors Association has pledged $4,000 to help support the day-to-day operations of the center. The Town Council of Washington set aside enough in its 2011 budget to make a similar contribution.
Requests, Overstreet has said, are being made to other organizations that will benefit from the center’s mission and operations. Private donations are also being sought.

The TAG’s recent announcement of the center’s impending opening said that a package of benefits has been developed for major benefactors.

For more information on donating to the operating fund for the Rappahannock County Visitors Center, contact the TAG fundraising committee chair Jay Brown at jay@gaystreetinn.com or 540-675-3288.

For more information on placing information at the Visitors Center, e-mail sandra@visitrappahannockva.com or call the Rappahannock County Office of Tourism at 675-5330. Event information of interest to visitors may also be placed at the Visitors Center at no charge, upon approval by Maskas. To submit event information for placement consideration, e-mail sandra@visitrappahannockva.com or call 675-5330.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 539 Articles

Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.