I-77 Welcome Center holds annual Tourism Day

By Jessica Johnson

May 8, 2014

With new numbers released this week from the N.C. Department of Commerce showing the North Carolina tourism industry generated record visitor spending last year — $20.2 billion, a 4.1 increase over 2012 — Tourism Day at the I-77 Welcome Center in Surry County was a picture of success.

The day included visitors from multiple states stopping in to find booths offering information about attractions, accommodations, recreation, and more in Surry County and other areas.

Mayberry Squad Car Tour Driver Melvin Miles brought a squad car, parked in the parking lot for visitors to photograph. Miles said people were “absolutely thrilled” when he told them they could sit inside the car for a picture.

Tessie Akers and her son Noah Akers, along with his wife Sue, were headed to Myrtle Beach, a trip they make around the same time each year, according to Sue, when they stopped in the Welcome Center located on I-77 South, hoping they would catch Tourism Day as they have most every year. The Akers family, from Lancaster, Ohio, said Surry County is a “great stopping point” on the way to the beach. Tessie shared that she is a direct descendent of the famous McCoy family from West Virginia — her father was named Noah McCoy.

Many people stop in Surry County from Ohio, Miles said, who encounters Ohio visitors almost every day on his squad car tours.

“People do come from just about everywhere, but mostly from Ohio…today I’ve met them from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, and of course from Virginia and North Carolina. People just get so excited when they see the car, because everybody is familiar with ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and they just can’t believe they can sit in the car and touch it.”

Jerry and Bobbi Suetterlin, travelers from Fort Wayne, Indiana, were particularly interested in local state parks, asking Pilot Mountain State Park Ranger Josh Clawson multiple questions about what the area offered in terms of dog-friendly parks. Clawson shared information with them about Pilot Mountain State Park, the Mountains to Sea Trail, and even answered questions about the Appalachian Trail in western North Carolina.

I-77 North Welcome Center Manager Chris McKeaver said the day was going “very well” and was something he and the staff looked forward to each year. The Welcome Center, which is located just across the Virginia line on I-77 South, has about 200 to 250 people who get out of their cars and come inside each day, McKeaver said. They enjoy more visits in the summer and fall months, and said visitors are looking for all types of travel advice, such as the more typical directional questions, and more specifics like recommendations of things to do while in the area, places to stay, and restaurants to visit.

McKeaver said they do direct “quite a few” visitors to the Surry County and Mount Airy area as a good stopping point, for dining and/or for staying overnight.

Publisher Sam Rogers with Carolina Publishing Associates was full of compliments for Surry County and Mount Airy tourism groups, sharing that the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce/Visitors Center Tourism and Marketing Director Jessica Icenhour Roberts is “one of the best” he has encountered.

“She really understands this area well, how to promote the museums and attractions, and realizes that is one of the aspects that drives the local economy, while still respecting the small, hometown atmosphere they have. You really have to look at it from a different angle each year, and Jessica does a great job at that, along with your tourism groups, and I really have to give them credit.”

Local groups and businesses in attendance included the Mount Airy Visitor Center, Mayberry Squad Car Tours, Pilot Mountain State Park, Shelton Vineyards, Surry Arts Council, several local artists, and accommodation representatives. Also attending were representatives from the Town of Elkin, Winston-Salem Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), Salisbury CVB, High Point CVB, Greensboro CVB, Alamance County CVB, and more.

Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.