Tourism brewing in the Shenandoah Valley

Published: Sep. 27, 2017 at 2:29 PM EDT
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Thousands of tourists visit the Shenandoah Valley each year. To make those numbers grow even larger, last week, the Shenandoah Spirits Trail and the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail received grants to help expand the programs marketing.

These were part of $967,000 in matching grant funds awarded to 50 local tourism initiatives as part of the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s (VTC) Marketing Leverage Program.

Also among the recipients of those grants was the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, with $6,892 awarded to their Elegantly English program, as well as Destination Harrisonburg and


“Today, we are making a strategic investment in one of Virginia’s most important and growing industries,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “Tourism is the Commonwealth’s fifth largest industry, and every dollar spent on new product development means economic growth, jobs, and improved quality of life for Virginia families. The Marketing Leverage Program grants fund innovative marketing initiatives for tourism entities across the Commonwealth, helping them to promote Virginia as a premier travel destination.”

But with two of the grant recipients in the Valley focused on local alcohol, let's delve deeper there.


connects more than 40 breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries from Frederick County to Rockingham County, while the

connects 13, and soon 14, breweries from Lexington to Harrisonburg.

Sheryl Wagner, Staunton Director of Tourism, says Friendly Fermenters in Harrisonburg will be added to the trail soon.

As part of the grant, the

will have a passport program that will be available to visitors. Once people visit a certain number of breweries, they will get a prize.

According to a

, the Shenandoah Valley hosted 736,000 local visitors and 533,000 non-local visitors (those who travel more than 50 miles to visit venues) in 2015.

The study also says on average, 5,356 people visit agritourism venues each year. The code of Virginia defines agritourism as "any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, wineries, ranching, historical, cultural, harvest your own activities, or natural activities and attractions."

Craig Nargi, the owner of Stable Craft Brewery in Waynesboro, says he sees around 7,000 to 8,000 visitors each year, and growth year to year is steadily rising.

"People want to know where their beer's made," Nargi said. "They want to buy local. They want to contribute local. They want to see their dollars stay home instead of going somewhere else. It's palate tourism. It's taste bud tourism."

Stretching from Lexington to Winchester, the Valley is home to more than 40 wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Nargi says when one brewery is seeing a higher number of visitors coming in, the rest of the breweries in the area do as well.

"Typically, visitors, when they come to an area, they don't see boundaries," explained Harrisonburg Tourism Director Brenda Black. "So they're going from Harrisonburg to Staunton, from Harrisonburg up to Massanutten and so forth. Crossing over the Shenandoah National Park to Luray. Those partnerships in marketing is the key to any regional success."

The Virginia Tech study also found on average, non-local visitors to agritourism venues other than wineries, breweries, and distilleries spend $34.74, while local visitors spend $21.65 per visit. Visitors to wineries, breweries and distilleries spent an average of $45.52 for non-local visitors, and $24.88 for local visitors.

Black also added she thinks the new hotel and conference center on Main Street in Harrisonburg will bring in an even different demographic to the Valley and they will be able to tap in to new markets. They are also working with the conference center to get new conferences in the area.