The last few weeks, my articles have covered the changes in Mason County’s economy over the last two hundred years. First, it was purely agriculture, a mix of small farms and large slave plantations. Then, in the 1840s, industry rose to dominance as salt, coal, and machinery pulled labor from the farms to the towns. This continued well into the modern era, with our industry supporting half a dozen war efforts.
But today, with industry generally on the decline, the question on quite a few people’s minds is where to look next. What will bring new jobs to Mason County? What will keep our young people here? What will generate real revenue to support our schools and roads? It’s simple, really. Tourism.
Now, I’m not saying industry won’t play a part. We’ll always need a few industries that employ 100+ people. The chemical plants, power plants, and river operations, they all play a part. Though, we have a difficult time keeping the ones we have, much less building new ones.
On the other hand, downtowns are growing and creating jobs with tourism as the base. Soon enough Main Street will have five museums (County, River, Mothman, Tu-Endie-Wei, and Farm Museum), an art gallery (Gallery at 409), a farmers market in the heart of downtown, a revived theater, a hotel, and at least two dozen small business selling food, antiques, and gifts. In other words, downtown will soon have everything a tourist could want, and more.
And soon, the new four-lane Route 35 will open, allowing the old two-lane to become a scenic byway past all of the beautiful and historic farms. If you’ve ever been to Amish Country, you know that tourists (especially those from large cities) love to visit rural areas like ours, tour a farm or two, and buy some honey or jam or some other quality produce. If one or two of these old working farms opened to visitors, they could make quite a bit of money during the summer and fall festival seasons. Add in the places we already have where you can pick your own berries and so on, and we have a real agritourism sector.
We also have several other resources throughout the county ripe for tourism development. The TNT Area, Cornstalk Wildlife Area, and Letart Nature Park are all wonderful assets, and we have plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and kayaking.
Now take all of that together. Several major festivals, five museums, an art gallery, a busy downtown, a handful of farms to visit, two wildlife areas, a nature park, two rivers and a dozen navigable streams… If we can really develop and market those assets, we have enough to keep a tourist here for a week!
Throw in Gallia and Meigs, and we have enough to keep someone coming back for years! In this forty mile loop from Point to Pomeroy to Gallipolis, with spurs reaching out to Pliny, Rio Grande, and Letart Falls, we have access to four historic towns with all of their museums and shops, a dozen wildlife areas and other natural resources, and more farms than you can count.
Everything’s in place, folks. Aside from our resources here, we also have almost 40 major cities (over 25,000 pop.) within a three-hour drive and, with a bit of marketing, could easily pull thousands of visitors from those cities. In West Virginia, we have Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg, and Wheeling. In Kentucky, there is Lexington, Covington, Richmond, Florence, Georgetown, Nicholasville, and Frankfort. And in Ohio, we’ve got Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron, Dayton, Canton, Hamilton, Springfield, Kettering, Cuyahoga Falls, Middletown, a dozen cities on the I-270 beltway, and of course, Athens. So many potential visitors…
We have everything we need to make our tri-county area a premier tourism destination to rival the Eastern Panhandle, Ohio’s Amish Country, and Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region. Sights to see and things to buy, cultural attractions and outdoor recreation, relatively easy access and places to stay.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and assistant director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.