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ARC-funded map to promote food and destination tourism

BOONE—Destination tourism continues to be a growing market, especially for regions seeking to enhance their economy.

A team of recreation, tourism and planning professionals, including Dr. Melissa Weddell at Appalachian State University, is working on a project designed to boost to tourism throughout the 13-state Appalachia region by focusing on distinctive food destinations from Alabama to New York.

Weddell is a consultant on the project for Destination by Design, a Boone-based urban planning and consulting firm that received an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) award to support the work. The assistant professor in Appalachian’s Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science said the map will list seven categories: craft distilleries, farm tours, farm-to-fork restaurants, farmers markets, vineyards and wineries, craft breweries and festivals and events.

The listings will be based on nominations from the general public submitted online at http://appfoodguide.com as well as a business’s or festival’s longevity. Nominations for inclusion in the map will be accepted through May 15.

According to the ARC, “The purpose is to increase tourism to the Appalachian region by showcasing the breadth and depth of its food heritage and agritourism offerings.”

A goal of the project, Weddell said, is to get people off the interstates and into the communities and local food attractions. The project seizes on the growing local food movement.

“We will work closely with the ARC board on selection criteria, but if a location can offer more than just one of the seven categories it is more likely to be included,” Weddell said. “There are corridors within the Appalachian region that have clusters of wineries within close proximity of one another or farm-to-table restaurants that have their own farm and offer farm tours. We want users of the map to get the most bang for their travel dollar.”

Others involved in the project are Eric Woolridge and Teresa Buckwalter from Destination by Design, graphics designer Beth Jacquot and web developer Sunny Morgan, video producer Matt Powell, plus photographers and videographers.

Woolridge who earned his bachelor’s degree in community and regional planning and his master’s in public administration from Appalachian, said “As a planning firm, we are excited to be part of a project that has a lot of momentum across the country and in Boone itself.”

The map, containing about 150 sites, will be published in the spring 2014 American Heritage Magazine and will later be available at visitors’ centers in the Appalachia region and online.

“The real story about the Appalachia region now is about its progressive nature and its refreshing take on life, and it is heavily centered right now on food and art,” said Paige Alost of the Athens County Ohio Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The map guide will tell the story of how important the food culture is to the Appalachia region and how important it is for visitors to get into that food culture to really understand what the region is about.”

Weddell has a passion for local food tourism. “Typically my projects revolve around research, so this is an interesting grant to be a part of that is community based,” Weddell said, who heads Appalachian’s commercial, recreation and tourism program within the recreation management major. An earlier project studied farmers markets in Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties. “Food tourism is a major economic driver and we still have much to learn about the visitors and their motivations,” she said.

Interest in destination tourism that includes an entire area is growing in popularity, according to Weddell. “Tourism development authorities and communities realize that they have to market a complete destination, which might be a multi-county region, not just a single town or community,” she said. “One of the things that Appalachia has that is so unique is that we have purposefully done things that preserve our culture. And food is one of those cultures.”

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