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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Boucher: Trails Bring Happiness

Well, they bring him happiness anyway.  They make for a campaign issue that the local media seem to enjoy. And they bring him reelection. Even though there has never been any real evidence (the cheerleaders at the Virginia Tourism Corporation don't count; they get paid to come up with fantastic tourism numbers) that all those hiking trails and bike paths that he's funded over the years have brought squat to Southwest Virginia.  But he keeps making the contention.  And the media keep printing it for him.

The latest bit o' blarney:
Boucher: Trails can mean dollars
By Debbie Hall, Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Creeper Trail generates more revenue than personal property taxes and, according to U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, a similar project in Patrick County has the same potential.

The Abingdon Democrat, whose 9th District includes Patrick County and part of Henry County, is a proponent of building trails along abandoned rail lines as a way to boost the economy in rural areas.

The concept has brought dividends in other areas and does not drain resources, Boucher said.

In Abingdon, the 35-mile “fabulous terrain” of the Virginia Creeper Trail attracts about 300,000 people to the region each year, Boucher said.

Although there are other attractions, such as the Barter Theatre, restaurants and shops, Boucher said the Creeper Trail “is the major draw.”

Two localities — Abingdon and Damascus — consider it a major part of the local economy, he said.

The town of Abingdon in particular receives an economic boost from the trail because tourists also eat in local restaurants, shop at local businesses and stay in local accommodations, Boucher said.

“Abingdon collects more revenues from meals and lodging” that it collects in property taxes, he said. “That is all because of tourism.” [link]
Nonsense.  It's absolute nonsense.

That last point that Boucher made, that all the revenue generated in Abingdon from meals and lodging come from tourism, doesn't even pass the smell test.  For those of you not familiar with the area, let me make it short and sweet for you - there are no hotels or restaurants anywhere near that trail.  They're all over along the interstate.  And unlike what the Virginia Tourism Corp. would have you believe, most of those "tourists" are actually interstate highway travelers on their way north and south.

You can read all about the flimflammery that is the Virginia Tourism Corp. here.  But I'll resurrect two points I made regarding the VTC's report on Southwest Virginia "tourism":

(1) A resident of Big Stone Gap is a tourist, by definition, if he travels to the Kmart in Abingdon to buy a quart of motor oil.  By definition.

(2) Revenue generated in eating establishments and convenience stores along I-81, including McDonald's and BP, is considered tourism revenue.  You're local to Abingdon?  Every time you buy gas over at the Citgo you're considered a tourist.

Which makes this whole thing smell to high heaven.

I should add one more point: Boucher's figure of 300,000 "visitors" to the Creeper Trail includes dozens and dozens of busloads of kids bused in each month from area schools to walk the trail. A nice time had by all, I'm sure, but it ain't tourism.

And while we're dealing with the smell test, go down to Damascus (the epicenter of the Creeper Trail) on a nice spring or summer day and count the number of hikers going through town on the trail.  On one hand.  300,00 a year my ass.

Finally, we now have bike paths and hiking trails - funded all or in part by Mr. Boucher - crisscrossing Southwest Virginia.  If they were such the draw, why is the area so depressed?  And where are the jobs?  Beyond the canoe livery and the bike repair shop, where are the jobs?

This whole subject continues to ... smell.

When is some mainstream media type going to actually start asking the right questions of this snake oil salesman?