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Counties launch Wild Blueway trail / June 12, 2014
Tourism built around outdoor recreation is the unifying factor behind a regional marketing partnership spearheaded by Halifax and Mecklenburg counties. The latest effort aims to make area rivers and waterways — once frequented mostly by anglers — community treasures for canoers and kayakers as well.

Monday’s launch of the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway is the culmination of a conversation that began less than a year ago between Halifax County Tourism Director Linda Shepperd and Mecklenburg County Tourism Coordinator Justin Kearns. The two wanted to explore ways to promote the area’s scenic waterways to a broader audience.

Shepperd explained that the region has 100 miles of navigable rivers, including the Dan, Staunton, and Bannister rivers and 1,200 miles of Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston shoreline that is an asset for the counties.

Working with various stakeholders — the Virginia Tourism Corporation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state park officials, outfitters, local hotels, and restaurants — a plan formed to market the area as a destination, Shepperd explained.

“We did not have to reinvent the wheel. We just had to connect the dots,” she said. Shepperd credits the RRBA-Upper Reach with laying the groundwork for the Blueways. Since 2011, the nonprofit organization has developed and mapped paddle trails, as well as installed trailheads, interpretive signage, and launch sites along the Dan, Staunton and Bannister rivers.

The tourism team brought in Mikula Harris marketing firm, based in Roanoke, to develop a website,, maps, brochures, and everything a traveler may need to plan a canoe or kayak outing in the area.

“We want people to do more than use the Blueways. We want them to stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants,” Shepperd said.

The newly developed website contains links to hotels, bed & breakfasts, campgrounds, and restaurants. There are even links to area festivals and happenings. “Everything that is on the VTC [Virginia Tourism Corporation] site can be linked or found on our site,” Shepperd said.

The website also contains information on water levels, maps of the Blueways, and details about canoe or kayak rentals and launch sites.

For now, Kearns said the plan is to focus their marketing on a highly sought after demographic — younger people who enjoy hiking, camping, canoeing, and outdoor life. In addition to the website, they placed ads in Blue Ridge Magazine, which according to Kearns, is very popular among their target audience.

This audience, maybe for the first time, will learn that the Southern Virginia Wild Blueways has over 30 public access points. It also provides access to three state parks, hundreds of waterfront campsites, several waterfront hotels, cabins, restaurants, shops, and some of the most beautiful wilderness areas accessible by water in the Piedmont Region.

Shepperd said that even before the official launch there has been a lot of buzz. “[WSET-TV in Lynchburg] gave us 45 seconds on the news the other day. And I’ve had a conversation with people in Martinsville asking how they can become part of our campaign, but that is phase II.”

Both Shepperd and Kearns believe the website will have a great economic impact on the area because the local Blueways are, in the words of Kearns, a paddling experience unlike any other.

The celebration and official launch is open to the public, and takes place Monday, June 16, at 10 a.m. at the Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg.

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This is terrific! I hope similar advancements will ensue regarding appreciation of native plants and animals, conserving native habitats, and restoring those that have been destroyed in Southside Virginia. As some lands go out of agriculture, why not let nature take its course and restore itself? Plant native plants and native animals will fare better. Keep out nonnatives and the habitats are even more valuable. Over time it will pay us back in healthier living communities.

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