There are many who live in Rappahannock County who like to boast that “it’s not on the way to anywhere,” but this week, many business owners who depend on visitors — especially during this, the busiest tourism month of the year — are worried about the consequences of a continued closure of the one thing Rappahannock is on the way to: Shenandoah National Park.
The park, which last year released a study that showed it had a $74 million positive economic impact on its neighboring communities in 2011, is “definitely a magnet whose loss of polarity will draw fewer visitors to Rappahannock,” said County Administrator John McCarthy, who points out that meals-and-lodging tax receipts are highest for the quarter that spans October.
Most businesses along Rappahannock’s U.S. 211 main artery rely on traffic to and from the park, the closure of which Monday afternoon (and the furloughing of 200 of its 240 “nonessential” employees) is, of course, part of the nationwide federal government shutdown forced by Congress’s Obamacare-fueled partisan budget impasse. Among those is Gray Ghost Vineyards in Amissville.
“October is probably the biggest month for all wineries in Virginia,” said Cheryl Kellert, the winery’s co-owner, speaking of the same month that Shenandoah National Park has said also accounts for a quarter of its total annual visitors, many of them of the “leaf-peeper” variety. “We do get a lot of traffic year-round that is either going to Skyline Drive or coming back home, and judging by what our visitors tell us, [the closure] could not help but affect us negatively.”
She hopes the shutdown is resolved quickly, she said, and though she and husband Al are on the conservative side in politics, “we’re disappointed . . . Congress is elected to serve us, set the budget, and they’re doing everything but that at this point.”
In Front Royal, meanwhile, the Smithsonian Conservation and Biology Institute (SCBI) cancelled its annual autumn conservation festival this coming weekend. It won’t be rescheduled, a spokesperson said.
“A shot in the foot for tourism in Rappahannock,” said Sperryville designer Kim Bealle, who worked closely with the county’s Office of Tourism for the last five years — and lives on Nethers Road, which she expects will fill up with parked cars despite the closure this weekend, as hikers head around the chains and warnings strung across the Old Rag Mountain trailhead there.
“I don’t know how we’re supposed to have an economic recovery if they keep shutting things down that people depend on for their own economic recovery,” she said. “I think a lot of people who were planning to stay or eat in Rappahannock this weekend are thinking of cancelling their plans. I hope they don’t.”