GRUNDY, VA – JULY 13, 2021 –Tourism dollars being spent in Buchanan County have outpaced initial public-private investments in property and development costs at Southern Gap by up to $2.19 million in the four years since the opening of Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure (SGOA) and two years later, the opening of the Southern Gap Visitor Center, according to a recent economic impact analysis of the properties.
The figures do not take into account the day-to-day operating costs and expense incurred in that same period, but do paint a picture of how the influx of tourism dollars into the community compares with initial development investments made.
The Southern Gap location has been featured nationally on television, in magazines, across numerous social media platforms and to date, has attracted visitors from all 50 states and five foreign countries including Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Russia and Australia.
“We have worked hard to ensure Southern Gap is on the map when it comes to spending tourism dollars in Buchanan County and I think the fact that tourism spending dollars have now surpassed initial investment dollars is a testament to both projects,” said Billie Campbell, of Mooseport Properties. “The two principle draws for visitation are the use of the Spearhead Trail System and wildlife viewing opportunities. Additionally, more and more, we are seeing the visitor center increase in usage as people are choosing it and the Southern Gap properties for weddings and other life celebrations.”
Utilizing Virginia State Park methodology for estimating tourism dollars based on the type of visitor –non-resident overnight, non-local day, or local — the analysis found the impact to Buchanan County in tourism dollars spent ranged from a low of $3.919 million to a high of $5.364 million in the four years the Southern Gap properties have been open.
Public-private dollars spent on the project have totaled $3.174 million, with more than half of that — $1.8 million — being private investment since ground was broken five years ago.
In 2016, Mooseport Properties, LLC approached the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) about the potential private development of an outdoor recreation campground destination situated at Southern Gap near the trailhead location of the Spearhead Trails which had just opened in the county. At the same time, Mooseport partnered with IDA to construct a visitor center which would promote the county’s elk restoration project, while also promoting Buchanan County history, culture and the music/arts/crafts talents of the county.
To date, Mooseport Properties, LLC has invested $1.814 million of its own private funds in the creation of the campground and outdoor adventure park at Southern Gap. Additionally, day-to-day operating expenses, utilities, staff and marketing have been paid out of private funds. Public funds — in the form of a $750,000 Virginia Coalfield Development Authority (VCEDA) grant to the IDA; and $610,000 in IDA funds — were used to construct and complete the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is a public-private venture which sees SGOA operating the center for the IDA. Currently, the day-to-day costs of keeping the Visitor Center open, operating, staffed and promoting its utilization are all taken care of by SGOA.
Since opening in May 2017, SGOA has seen the successful development of the plans it first presented to the Buchanan County IDA in 2016. Phase One of the campground was completed with five cabins, 19 RV full-hookup sites and 10 primitive camping spots. A number of small events to aid local charities and to promote visitation by riders and outdoor wildlife enthusiasts to take advantage of the development have been held since the facilities were opened. Additionally, SGOA was able to secure the largest UTV event east of Oklahoma – UTV Takeover — with national level sponsors in Buchanan County. The third UTV Takeover event gets underway July 28-August 1, 2021.
“When tourists arrive at a destination, their primary spending is in lodging, gasoline and food,” Campbell noted. “Miscellaneous related purchases made at local businesses, souvenir purchases and additional entertainment options they find upon their arrival are also what tourist dollars are spent on.”
Virginia State Park Economic Impact estimations per visitor are that non-resident overnight visitors spend an average of $50-$70 per day; non-local day visitors, $40 to $50 per day; and local visitors, $15 to $20 per day.
Visitor economic impacts for each year SGOA has been open have seen a steady increase in numbers, except for last year when the campground was forced by the state, along with other campgrounds, to shutter its doors for a period of time due to COVID-19.
An analysis of the numbers showed the economic impact credited to tourism at SGOA and the range from low to high using the state park methodology was as follows:
• In the eight months of 2017 the campground was open, there were a total of 14,300 visitors of all types, 9,180 of them as overnight guests at SGOA. Economic impact for 2017 was estimated at $587,000 to $806,000.
• In 2018, SGOA had a total of 20,800 visitors of all types, 13,000 of them as overnight guests. Economic impact for 2018 was estimated at $832,000 to $1.144 million.
• In 2019, SGOA had a total of 27,530 visitors of all types, 15,300 of them as overnight guests. Economic impact for 2019 was estimated at $1.078 million to $1.472 million.
• In 2020, COVID-19 closing impacted visitor counts, however, SGOA had a total of 22,800 visitors of all types, 12,700 of them as overnight guests. Economic impact for 2020 was estimated at $894,000 to $1.222 million.
• In the first five months of 2021, SGOA has had a total of 13,300 visitors of all types, 7,800 of them as overnight guests. Economic impact for 2021 thus far is estimated at $527,500 to $722,000.
“Based on these figures and actual visitation numbers we now have to look at the project, at a conservative five percent annual growth rate in the next 20 years, the economic impact to Buchanan County is estimated between $42 to $57 million in that 20-year period,” Campbell said, adding visitation numbers should also increase and see as many as 80,000 visitors to the county per year.
“This impact information is crucial for continuing the development of restaurants, gas stations, lodging and other outdoor recreation-related business throughout the entire county,” Campbell said. “As visitation grows, the need for tourism-related infrastructure grows with it. Already, we have seen a number of spin-off businesses build up, from food trucks and ATV rental locations, to water kayaking experiences and additional lodging being constructed. Those numbers are not included in our analysis, but if determined and added in, would show the tourism economy in Buchanan County is continuing to grow. It is through the forward-thinking actions of the Buchanan County IDA at Southern Gap and the willingness of entrepreneurs in our community to step up that these kinds of impacts are possible. We’re pleased to be a part of that progress.”