By Cassady Rosenblum
The Parsons Advocate
The Tucker County Commission met at the Parsons Court House after rescheduling from its normal time the previous Wednesday. The County Commission heard reports from several county departments including the visitor’s bureau, the Sheriff’s office, emergency services, and the animal shelter.
Jessica Waldo, director of the Tucker County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) kicked things off, reporting that tourism to Tucker County “flourished” in 2020. After a rocky start at the beginning of the year due to COVID-19 restrictions, Waldo said a “record” number of guests visited the county, drawn by the prospect of renting vacation homes where they could cook their own food and practice safe social distancing. Waldo said CVB then launched a $58,000 “Back to Adventure” summer marketing campaign targeting outdoor enthusiasts, which resulted in increased digital engagement across all platforms, with Google and Facebook being the biggest drivers of traffic. For example, the website canaanvalley.org received 503,853 page views during the campaign, according to Waldo, representing a 37% increase in total page views compared to the previous year.
Waldo also highlighted the fact that, last year, the CVB spent about 65% of its yearly budget on advertising, 28% on payroll, and 7% on operational, surpassing state standards that mandate about 40% should be spent on advertising. The CVB is a private non-profit designed to increase tourism in Tucker County. It is funded primarily through the 6% hotel/motel occupancy tax collected throughout Tucker County. During the year 2020, this fee generated $322,149 dollars worth of revenue for Tucker County, half of which the CVB receives, and half of which Parks and Recreation, Fire and Emergency Services, and the Cultural District Authority splits.
Sheriff J.E. Kopec addressed the County Commission, introducing two new recruits, Deputy C.R. Summerfield and Tax Deputy Slayter Liller. Kopec emphasized the challenges of keeping such a rural county safe, where there are only 6,500 residents but over a million visitors each year. County Commissioner Fred Davis applauded the Sheriff’s office for its positive attitude, and thanked them for arresting a man who tore up multiple lawns in the Thomas area doing donuts over the weekend.
Kevin White, Director of Tucker County Homeland Security Emergency Management, addressed the commission. In addition to overseeing emergency services in the county, White is also the Chief of the Parsons Volunteer Fire Department. White acknowledged that COVID-19 numbers are going back up in the county, and said Tucker County would follow state guidelines. The good news, White said, is that the Biden Administration has approved coronavirus booster shots, which will be rolled out next month. Another item of positive news, White shared, is that the fire department has figured out how to use alcohol by-product from a local distillery to disinfect its equipment. “If you go by the station and it smells like bourbon, it’s not us drinking!” said White. Previously, said Shelia Devilder, the County Administrator, the county had been spending about $400 per case of disinfectant, so this bit of innovation was met with joy from all corners of the room.
Additionally, White also reported that his department will begin training pilots to learn how to operate four $8,000 drones they previously acquired through grants. The purpose of the drones is to perform search and rescue missions, should a hiker ever get lost in a wilderness area such as Dolly Sods, for example.
Bailey Falls, Director of the Tucker County Animal Shelter, shared some statistics from the animal shelter. Between July 29 and August 18, Falls said 42 animals had entered the shelter, six had been adopted, three had been reclaimed by owners, and zero had been euthanized. About half of the remaining animals have been placed in foster care, or transferred to rescue partners, so that currently there are 28 animals in the shelter. Falls mentioned several upcoming benefit events, including a Gold Tournament Sunday, September 19 at the Holly Meadows Golf Course at 9 a.m. hosted by the Parks and Recreation Board. Falls said the shelter is still seeking sponsorship and volunteers for the event. She also mentioned the animal shelter hopes to have a dog show and “kitten kissing booth” event the Friday before the Leaf Peeper’s Festival, currently scheduled for September 24-26. Proceeds from these events will go towards developing a canine play yard and feline intake facility.
Falls also said that any Tucker County resident who needs a cat spayed or neutered will have an opportunity to do so on October 23, as all the spots for the upcoming spay/neuter event August 28 have been booked.