By Jesse Wood
Oct. 29, 2013. With area festivals reporting record attendance and more people shopping at local retailers recently, describing this fall season as a “blowout” may not be hyperbole.
On the same day that a record 13,000 people flocked through the gates of the Valle Country Fair on Oct. 19, more than 17,000 people purchased tickets to attend the Woolly Worm Festival, which was the largest attendance for a Saturday in downtown Banner Elk. Even Beech Mountain’s Autumn at Oz took in quite a bounty with 6,500 people attending the sold-out event and Oktoberfest atop Sugar Mountain had a record amount of visitors as well, noted Avery County Chamber Executive Director Sue Freeman.
While noting the high attendance of local fall events, Freeman added that the Blue Ridge Parkway has been “packed” with visitors and that the tourism office in Avery has seen an influx of international – for example, Persian, Canadian, German – travelers this fall season.
“The tides all came together,” Freeman said. “People are just escaping, I really think, to this mountain destination. It’s a great place to be. Avery County is perfect in the fall.”
In Watauga County, Wright Tilley, executive director of the Tourism Development Authority, said most of the hotels were full the past two weekends with the Appalachian State football game, leaf season and the fall festivals.
“The latter half of [this] October is shaping up to be a strong month for us,” Tilley said, adding that he wouldn’t know the full scope of recent tourism figures until the occupancy tax revenue data is released at the end of November.
Landis Taylor at Grandfather Mountain said that although Grandfather hasn’t had record attendance this year, it’s been a “great October.” She also mentioned what a lot of people have thought recently.
“Especially after such a rainy summer, we really needed a great fall season,” Taylor said.
In the Town of Blowing Rock, Executive Director of the Blowing Rock Chamber Charles Hardin, echoed the comments of Freeman and Taylor, while noting that this fall season has been “really good.” Hardin mentioned that everyone was anxious about the local impacts of the 16-day federal government shutdown during the beginning of October.
“Actually, it didn’t seem to affect us in terms of visitors so much. Especially with the fact that people who came here for some outdoor recreation might not have been able to do that, so they spent more times in the stores,” Hardin said. “That was an unintended consequence of something we thought was negative but turned out to be really good.”
Hardin concluded that all of Blowing Rock’s sectors – hotels, restaurants, retailers and realtors – are reporting a good season.