Over the past several years the Surry County Tourism Partnership, in conjunction with tourism authorities in local cities and towns, have gone to great lengths, and expense, in an effort to market the treasures Mount Airy and Surry County have to offer visitors.
Of course, such an effort would start with the city’s ties to Mayberry and The Andy Griffith Show, which has brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to Mount Airy over the years. More recent efforts by local tourism officials, though, have tried to expand our marketing efforts, focusing on local wineries, the area’s proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the cultural heritage and ties to blue grass and mountain music.
We have to thank our new friends in Danville, Ind., and particularly WTHR television personality John Stehr, for waking us to some new possiblities. Danville, as we reported Thursday, is hosting its own little Mayberry festival in May. And despite the fact that Mount Airy is Andy Griffith’s hometown, and that Griffith based Mayberry, at least in part, on his boyhood home of Mount Airy, Stehr recently said that Mayberry does not belong to Mount Airy — that Danville, Ind., is as much Mayberry as Mount Airy.
Clearly, local tourism officials have been too limiting and uninspired in their efforts to draw visitors to our fair town.
Thus, we would like to humbly offer these suggestions for expanding the local tourism efforts.
- An annual Viking Day, commemorating the first landing of Europeans in the New World, when they landed in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Guys with big unkempt beards could dress in animal fur coats, carry big axes and pillage Riverside Park. You think crowds are big at the J.E.B. Stuart Civil War reenactments…
- Speaking of the Civil War, there’s plenty of rolling countryside around Surry County that resembles Appomottax, Va. Local leaders should find a cow field, throw up a few split rail fences, and hold an annual festival each April commemorating the end of the Civil War. This could be huge next year, on the 150th anniversary of the end of the war. Local officials could advertise with the slogan “Come See How The Civil War Ended, Kinda Where It Really Sorta Happened (Or Could Have If It Hadn’t Happened Somewhere Else).”
- What about the Pearl Harbor of the South? Students could build tiny replicas of Pearl Harbor ships, maybe construct a model of the harbor itself down on Lovells Creek, and every December the area could have a solemn ceremony commemorating the Japanese bombing of the base. Not everyone can fly to Hawaii to see the real thing, but a lot of folks could drive to Mount Airy — after all, as long as we are well-meaning, being a cheap rip-off isn’t a bad thing, is it?
- Moving away from war, why not have a Niagara Icewine Festival in January? This holds the triple advantage of being a winter event, when tourism is generally slow, gives us an international flair since it’s patterned after the festival of the same name in Ontario, Canada, and it takes advantage of something we already have — wineries.
Again, working with area students, local leaders could make thumb-sized replicas of wooden barrells, stuff them with tiny dolls and then set up wine tastings and other festivities where people can watch the barrells go over a small waterfall in the Ararat River.
After all, even if Niagara Falls borders New York and Canada, it doesn’t really belong to the people there, the spirit of water rolling over big rocks belongs to everyone, right?
- Bringing local industry into the picture, we could hold a Ford Founders Day Celebration, commemorating the first mass-produced automobiles. Rename the empty Spencer’s Building Ford Production Headquarters, pick up a few junked cars that dot the area landscape, and charge $2 a head for people to tour the kinda life-like replica of the first automobile factory.
Since everyone drives cars, every community has a sort of lineage to those first automobile factories, right?
- We don’t want to overlook the sporting world and the chance to make a buck…we mean, offer tourist opportunities off of someone else’s work in the arena of competition, so each May we could hold the North Carolina version of The Kentucky Derby. This one’s easy — rent a pasture, then charge people a bunch of money to watch some horses race around it a couple of times while passing out brochures on all the attractions the county has to offer.
Really, a horse running around a field is a horse running around a field, regardless of where it’s taking place, or whether the horse has screwy names like Woah Shut Up, What Am I Chopped Liver (real honest-to-goodness names of horses appearing in the Kentucky Derby), We Copy Anyone For a Dollar (could be a horse name, somewhere), or just a simple Andy or Barney or Otis.
- To pull in the outdoorsy folks, each May we could hold an event at Pilot Mountain commemorating the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest (Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay). There could be rappelling races and flag planting competitions, along with good old North Carolina barbecue and slaw for sale.
There is a bit of a difference in the elevation between Pilot Mountain and Everest, to be sure, but Pilot Mountain is by far the highest peak in…well, in Pilot Mountain, so that kinda makes it like Everest.
Of course, these ideas are silly.
There is only one Niagara Falls, only one Pearl Harbor, no one will ever duplicate what Henry Ford did in his car factories, and so on. While everyone can celebrate, or commemorate, these events and places, they can’t really be duplicated.
And someone in the middle of Indiana can open a restaurant, slap the name Mayberry on it and then have some nicely dressed personality read a script on TV that says they have as much right to Mayberry as anyone, but the truth remains, there is only one Mayberry — and it’s right here in Mount Airy, North Carolina.
Anything else is a faint copy, at best.