Tourist office space cut this week by ‘more than half
Citing an insufficient focus by county officials on tourism, Sandra Maskas, who has been the manager of the Rappahannock County Visitors Center since its much-celebrated ribbon cutting in September 2010, submitted her resignation yesterday to interim county administrator Brenda Garton.
Maskas said she will remain in her part-time position until Nov. 6, 2017, after the conclusion of two large countywide events — the farm tour and art tour.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Maskas made clear to the Rappahannock News that she wasn’t pleased with the county-owned Visitors Center space on Rt. 211 east of Washington suddenly being minimized.
“A lot of changes are happening. They are shrinking the Visitors Center to one room of the building — everything got gutted yesterday [Tuesday]. They cut our space by more than half,” Maskas said of the building renovations, which got underway this week to provide sorely needed meeting and office space for Rappahannock County officials.
“I’m in support of the county coming over, it’s long overdue, but there is now little space for visitors,” she said. “I think of tourism as not just numbers, but as customer service. I’m a strong advocate of customer service. I want to be able to continue customer service, and I’m not sure that is going to be able to happen with all the county activities in the building.”
The county’s Board of Supervisors [BOS], as well as other county commissions and boards, have been in search of space since being told that due to security concerns they would soon no longer be able to hold regular meetings at the Rappahannock County Courthouse.
But Maskas said she was caught off guard by the extent of the Visitors Center renovations, which creates a large meeting space for the county.
“I talked to Brenda [Garton] and knew it was going to happen,” she said, “but I didn’t know it was going to happen yesterday.”
Alan Comp, a Rappahannock resident who has volunteered to advise the county government on the restoration and better utilization of county office space, recommended in his written report to the BOS at their Sept. 6 meeting: “Given the pressing need for alternative office space . . . [r]econfigure first floor to move Visitor reception to entry room and create private conference room in large space. Move entire Administrator staff to this building, with offices upstairs and meeting space in the conference room whenever privacy, accessibility or numbers require.”
Although easily accessible, the county administrator and her administrative assistant are currently housed in a small, almost doll house-like building on Gay Street, adjacent to Courthouse row.
Maskas submitted her resignation to Garton at 7 a.m. yesterday. She worked as a paid part-time county employee of late, albeit without benefits, having managed the visitors center the prior six-plus years as a subcontractor and self-employed contractor.
“I wanted to be sure to give a month’s notice,” she said of her departure. “This is our busiest time of the year — September, October and into November — with all the traffic coming into Shenandoah National Park, as well as our two big [county] events.”
Maskas added that she will “get the new visitors center space put together” before leaving the tourist management position.
In an email Tuesday night to Theresa Wood, the new leader of Businesses of Rappahannock, Maskas did not suppress her frustration with the job: “I feel the need to inform you that this 7th year is my last and that I am done after the Art Tour. So you can find someone else to work every weekend, Fri-Sun, and every holiday, April-Dec. Respectfully, Sandra.”
It was seven years ago this month, with scissors in hand, that a smiling Maskas helped officially cut the ribbon for the new Visitors Center. Rappahannock Board of Supervisors Chairman Roger Welch spoke briefly from its U.S. 211-facing front porch.
“Things used to be different,” Welch recalled, when “lots and lots of people” passed through Rappahannock on the way to Shenandoah National Park, Luray and points beyond. But since the late 1980s, he said, “we’ve been talking about a Visitors Center to bring back those who stopped coming this way. Well, now we have one, and it’s one we can be proud of.”
In its first month of operation that year, the Visitors Center had more than 400 walk-ins during its Friday through Sunday business hours. Today, it continues to greets hundreds of visitors during the busy months.
“I like to draw them maps,” Maskas said yesterday. “I don’t just send them out the door in the direction of 66, 211 or 522. I like to point them to the seldom seen places in this county.”
“I’ve enjoyed this job in support of the county,” she said in closing. “And I’m going to still be living here.”