The Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau opened a tourism center in the Crozet depot in July that it has dubbed the Albemarle Tourism and Adventure Center. Its large interactive screens linked to Apple TV will allow visitors to find recreational opportunities in western Albemarle and the Rockfish Valley. And like any tourism stop, it stocks racks of promotional information about tourist draws all over the state.
It occupies one-third of the 1924 building, sharing the door with co-tenant Crozet Artisans, which has a smorgasbord of wares displayed in the west side of the depot.
“We began staffing it the last week of July,” said Bureau executive director Kurt Burkhart. “We’re working hard to get our third ready. We really complement with the Artisans so well. It’s exciting for Crozet.”
Burkhart said that he is arranging for an inspection visit from the Virginia Tourism Corporation once the Outpost is settled in to qualify it for certification as an official welcome center. “That will give us a sign on the interstate. It will be easy to capture people from I-64. Being certified also gets us on the VTC website. It’s added exposure and awareness that we have something.
“A typical visitor’s center has somebody at a counter. There’s a lot of engagement. But this center is more high tech and interactive. We’ll have iPads and printers so we can print things for visitors. We’re in cooperation with Nelson County over Rt. 151 [attractions]. Visitors don’t know where county lines are.”
The Outpost will host two-hour programs on some Saturday mornings that are designed to show locals and visitors how to take advantage of area opportunities.
Gabe Silver was at the depot August 1 to describe kayak passages on the Rivanna River. He and his wife Sonya are opening Rivanna River Company, a business that will offer rentals (kayaks, canoes, tubes and paddleboards), shuttle service for river voyagers, instruction and guided programs on the Rivanna beginning next spring. “We’re trying to connect Charlottesville to the river. We saw a hole in local services. We take the headache out of river trips. Just bring a water bottle.” Silver, a 2002 WAHS graduate, was formerly a river education manager in Richmond, where the James River has developed into one of the city’s signature attractions. “Richmond was voted the Best River Town in America” in 2012 by Outside magazine, Silver noted.
A program set for August 15 will talk about ways to use a bicycle in western Albemarle. “We see success in programming that brings in expertise and we hope to grow that program,” Burkhart said. “We’re interested in hearing from people who have niche interests in the outdoors. Our focus here [at the Outpost] is to get people outside, and then to come in, obviously, for a meal.
“Most travel is inspired by friends and family. By having Saturday presentations we hope to share with locals the things there are to do in Albemarle and in the Valley for the times when their friends come to visit. They can have fun right here, and that’s good for local businesses too.
“This possibility dropped in our lap. It’s a dream come true to be co-tenants with the artisans. The chemistry is good and there’s so much potential here. What I like about Crozet is the quaintness you get walking on the street, that old small town charm.”
Tourism officials are planning for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. They are also working on a promotion they call Celebrate Shenandoah for the Shenandoah National Park’s upcoming 75th anniversary.
“I think Virginia tourism will continue growing,” Burkhart said. “Look at hotel growth in Charlottesville alone. They kick the tires before they do things like that. It’s happening in Prince William too. There are two new Hiltons there. We’re coming out of the doldrums and people are looking for experiential travel. Virginia has history, agribusiness, theme parks, the coast, the mountains, and lots of art and entertainment. Virginia gets a lot of repeat visitors.
“Our area sees a lot of Virginians from northern Virginia coming back. People look forward to getting away from that congestion.”
Burkhart said a recent 18-month advertising campaign in the Washington, D.C., area that promoted Virginia destinations had a $57 to $1 return, and the campaign is credited with inspiring 74,000 overnight hotel stays. “We know what D.C. produces for us.”
Now Crozet will be getting a brighter share of attention. “The minute folks come off the interstate….” Burkhart said… they’ll find local adventures ready for them.