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Tourism, marketing efforts dominate Mecklenburg supervisors’ discussions / June 11, 2014
Tourism and marketing Mecklenburg County were the main order of business during the June meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Justin Kearns, the county tourism coordinator, unveiled two new marketing initiatives. The first is the new “More of What Matters” ad campaign. The series, put together by the award-winning Mikula Harris marketing firm out of Roanoke, focuses on experiences a person can have in Mecklenburg County.

Kearns said for instance, the “More restaurants than local chains” ad includes a picture of a couple eating at Coopers Landing Inn and Tavern in Clarksville.

The storyboard that produced the greatest surprise from the supervisors was learning that Mecklenburg County has “More boat launches than stop lights.”

Kearns said these ads will be used in a number of different ways, but all of which are designed to sell Mecklenburg County to tourists.

The campaign was a year in the making, “getting the photography right, securing the right message, and understanding who we are going after, and knowing where to put the ads,” Kearns said.

The second piece of the ad campaign is the product of a collaboration with both Bluestone and Park View high schools. Students at the two schools were tasked with designing a marketing piece that speaks to the visiting teenage audience.

Park View students were the only ones who completed their project and the result was shown supervisors Monday night.

Speaking for the team primarily responsible for the video was its student producer and videographer, Jeremiah Gilbert. Not only did Gilbert shoot and edit the video, but he also selected the music.

The short message, interspersed with shots of students, was, “Our parents tell us to listen …. to put away our cell phones … to look both ways before crossing the street … because they’re afraid we might forget to do something important … like look at the stars … find your center at Mecklenburg County, Virginia.”

Kearns said after receiving the video, he sent it to a review panel including professionals from Virginia’s film office and a friend of his at Lionsgate Films in Los Angeles. “They were all very impressed. This had the message, the music and the photography” of a professional ad, Kearns explained. He promised to use it as part of Mecklenburg County’s marketing campaign.

Supervisors adopted a resolution celebrating the Wild Blueway, a marketing campaign promoting 100 miles of water trails in Mecklenburg and Halifax counties. The trail will have its official launch on Monday, June 16 at the Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg.

Kearns praised Scott Murray and members of the Upper Reach organization, who “did all the legwork” mapping and marking the canoe and kayak trails, as well as installing a series of launch sites for people to access the Dan, Staunton, Hyco, and Banister rivers and Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston. “We are coming in now to market what they created,” he said.

The marketing campaign is a collaborative effort between Mecklenburg and Halifax counties, and was primarily funded with a $20,000 grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

The plan, said Kearns, is to attract the outdoor enthusiasts to the area to use the blueways, but also enjoy the hotels, restaurants and other amenities the area has to offer. Currently Wild Blueway is advertising in a digital magazine known as Blue Ridge Outdoors – a very popular magazine among the target audience the county wants to reach.

Before closing his presentation, Kearns announced that the latest span of the Tobacco Heritage Trail running from downtown Boydton to Prison Road and just east of Boydton is already “ahead of schedule and under budget.”

Kayak Launch, School Troubles, and Appointments

In other business, supervisors agreed to grant Scott Murray and the Upper Reach Organization an easement near Steel Bridge on US1. Upper Reach plans to install a floating, handicapped accessible canoe and kayak launch at that site. In addition to the launch pier, Murray said Upper Reach plans to install a small gravel-parking pad on part of the easement.

“This is a worthy project,” said Board Chairman Glenn Barbour before he and the rest of the board voted in favor of the easement.

While it was not approved, Murray asked supervisors to consider installing a Port-A-John near the boat launch because the area lacks restroom facilities.

Supervisor Claudia Lundy reported on the most recent meeting of the joint education committee. After which, Supervisor David Brankley questioned, why, if the schools buildings are in such bad shape would the second priority need be the installation of sidewalks at the elementary school. He further noted, “We have leaking school roofs but that was not brought up, nor were new ceiling tiles, new windows, and air condition (which does not exist in the Park View Middle School gymnasium) was not brought up.”

Continuing Brankley said, “A lot of extra money went to the schools for the sake of saving jobs, yet we bring in people to talk spending six to seven thousand per person.”

On the subject of Park View Middle School, whose most recent principal James Spence told his staff that he would not be returning next year, Brankley said, “Park View Middle School has had four principals in three years; now we’ve brought in a person from Cumberland. Can’t we find anyone from Mecklenburg that can do the job?”

Saying that he was blessed with a new grandchild over the weekend, Brankley concluded by telling Supervisors he would not want that child to attend a school system where teachers are being moved from one end of the county to the other, and where SOL scores are declining, “probably the lowest they’ve been for years. If we’ve got to build a new school to get things right, I’ll vote for it right now. But I think first we need to get things right. We can’t let our schools fall down.”

Supervisor Jim Jennings thanked Brankley for bringing the issues forward, and said about the school facilities and the school leadership, “I can’t ask taxpayers to support a compromised leadership, and sooner or later we can no longer turn a blind eye.”

Bill Blalock also expressed his frustration with the state of the schools, saying, “It bothers me, the facilities that we have, that no one is tending to them. It seems to me that is with the idea that if we let these go to nothing then they will have to build something. How do we sit here and let the schools completely run down. I don’t know who is in charge, and that bothers me.”

He and Jennings encouraged Brankley, Spain and Lundy, to press the members of the school board for answers to questions about the state of the schools, how they developed their priority list, and why so many people, both in and out of the school system, are complaining about the quality of the education in Mecklenburg County.

Supervisors approved a resolution asking VDOT to lower the speed limit in front of Chase City Elementary school to 35 miles per hour, and declined a request from Wil Ober of Historic Boydton Renaissance to install playground equipment on county property. VACO, who handles the insurance for the county said the liability would be too great.

Voting for the request to erect the playground on county land, Supervisor Bill Blalock said, “It’s a shame to have this playground equipment that someone wants to use, but we throw it away. There’s too much red tape.”

Supervisor also adopted a resolution endorsing Virginia cooperative extension programs that are celebrating their centennial anniversary and another commending Dr. John Cavan, President of Southside Virginia Community College, upon his retirement.

The resolution noted that during Cavan’s 30-plus years as President the SVCC has experienced “unparalleled growth.”

Jane Hundley of Boydton was named to the Southside Community Services Board. Hundley is a nurse, and therapist who wants to give back to the community, said Glanzy Spain, who nominated her.

During board member comments, Brankley praised the Park View High School girl’s softball team who are heading off to Liberty University to compete in the State tournament.

Jim Jennings announced the next meeting of the Ag Committee, June 25 at 6:30 p.m.

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