ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Friendly, beautiful Belmont County has become a popular destination, and Tourism Director Jackee Pugh reported Wednesday to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners on tourism activities and local draws this past spring and summer, as well as what is expected this fall.
The Tourism Council was able to benefit local entities recently with the Grant Assistance Program, awarding more than $107,000 to nonprofit organizations in the county.
“We gave away more money this year than we ever had before because we had so many great applications that came in,” she said.
Frank Papini of the Martins Ferry Elks Club said the funding was a significant assistance in funding a recent community day.
Pugh said the Belmont County Heritage Museum has been rotating out exhibits in the front lobby and highlighting interesting elements of county history, including coal mining, the railroad industry and area athletes. There is currently a featured exhibit on Italian-American heritage, focusing on a family’s journey to America and finding employment in the coal mines. Pugh anticipates some “spooky” exhibits in the fall.
For the first time, the Heritage Trail Rubberneck Tour was held in spring to avoid competing with fall events.
“We had a good turnout. We didn’t have ideal weather, but for the first time, with so many changes that we made to it, I’m really pleased. Some of the stops had more than 300 people,” she said. The tour visited Belmont, Bethesda and Barnesville areas in April.
The county also welcomed more than 400 veteran bikers for the second stop in the Run for the Wall during Memorial Day weekend.
Other events included the 20th anniversary of the National Imperial Glass Museum in Bellaire in June, and the Barton Polka Festival this month.
Another intriguing site of interest was the Barnesville Track Rocks, covered with ancient markings, which people viewed in July during a tour of the Victorian Mansion Museum. Pugh said this could be another attraction for heritage-related tours in September and October.
Pugh also said word of the county’s outdoor recreation activities has gotten around, with popular destinations including Barkcamp State Park.
“Summertime and springtime, Barkcamp is full,” she said.
Lodging tax receipts which fund the Tourism Council’s activities are also doing well. In 2021, collections for the first half of the year came to $174,863, compared to $278,131 in 2022 and $287,638 this year so far.
“Lodging tax receipts are up slightly this year for the first and second quarter compared to last year. We did see a little dip in July, which we attribute to Blame My Roots not happening this year, we did feel a little pinch with that,” she said, referring to the county music festival at the Valley View Campgrounds along National Road near the site of the former Jamboree In The Hills festival. Blame My Roots will be on hiatus until 2024.
“We’re projecting the last half of this year that we’re going to do really well,” Pugh said, noting many upcoming fall festivities. She also said more transient workers are active in the area and some of the hotels have an occupancy of more than 90 percent.
Upcoming events include the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival Sept. 21-24. The Holloway Old Timers Festival is set for this weekend at the Holloway Fire Station. The Belmont County Fair begins next week along with a Fall Festival Sept. 9 at the St. Clairsville Amphitheater, as well as the Rhythm and Brews Fall Fest at the same site and time. A Cast Iron Cook-Off is set for Sept. 16 at Barkcamp State Park, an Apple Cider Festival Sept. 16 at Zion Retreat and RV Park in Flushing, an Underground Railroad Month presentation Sept. 16 at the Underground Railroad Museum, along with the Flushing Fall Festival, also at Flushing Sept. 16, at Schuler Park, and a car and bike cruise-in Sept. 17 in St. Clairsville. Since many of the events overlap, there is potential for tourists to visit multiple attractions on the same day.
Other plans are in the works for the Christmas season.
“We’re going to do some targeted marketing around the holiday shopping season. Belmont County doesn’t have any sort of ‘holiday experience’ like Oglebay, like Cambridge, like Steubenville, but we have the shopping center, and we have hotels,” she said. “We’re going to push out some specific targeting campaigns for a holiday getaway weekend where you can do all this but stay in Belmont County but shop and enjoy what we have here.”
The new website is also live at visitbelmontcounty.com. Pugh said the website now boasts more ease of navigation and a search function.