July 13, 2008

Sights to See?so Close to Home

By Cheryl Chumley, Manassas Journal Messenger, Va.

Jul. 13--The theme of vacationing in this day and age of high-cost fuel and tightening discretionary dollar budgets doesn't have to be "stay home," according to information from the Prince William Library System.

Rather, "think local" can work--and with planning, the biggest travel concern could then be narrowing the field of what to visit and what to see, a library newsletter suggests.

"With record-high fuel prices limiting many people's vacation plans, the prospect of traveling close to home has increased appeal," reads the letter. "Our state is so full of natural, historic and cultural treasures that the biggest challenge in planning an in-state vacation could very well be finding a way to organize a realistic itinerary."

Moreover, the bulk of "Virginia Routes to Explore" are already researched, laid out and mapped, ready for distribution by a variety of non-profit and government agencies.

Aside from the Journey Through Hallowed Ground, a trip along U.S. 15 that traverses 175 miles through four differ-ent states--West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania--and highlights hundreds of historically significant sites, homes and structures from the likes of Civil War and colonial eras, the commonwealth offers plenty other walks through time.

Music lovers, for instance, can travel the Crooked Road through the mountainous region of Southwest Virginia, where "bluegrass, old time and traditional country music is as beautiful and rugged as the landscape itself," the Explore the Crooked Road Web site reports.

The site, http://www.thecrookedroad.org, offers an interactive map, along with opportunity to purchase music, books and clothing items related to the tourism area. Suggested stops along the 250-mile trail include various venues in 10 different cities and 10 different towns.

For example, in Grayson County, which is known as the "rooftop of Virginia because [it's] the highest peak" in the state, according to Explore the Crooked Road information, travelers can hike and bike one day, and attend an old-timey Blue Ridge concert the next.

It's more of the same along this entire trail, travel promoters say, and for a short-cut version to "experience authentic mountain music where it was born," visit these eight sites: the Ralph Stanley Museum, the Carter Family Fold, the Rex Theater & Old Fiddler's Convention, Country Cabin II, Floyd Country Store & Country Sales, Blue Ridge Institute & Museum of Ferrum College, the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance and the Blue Ridge Music Center.

Virginia's Department of Transportation suggests travel along the "more than 2,500 miles designated as scenic byways in Virginia," from the Alleghany Highlands to a variety of sites in Northern Virginia to the multitude of Civil War trails throughout the commonwealth.

Closest to home are the U.S. 15 travel sites that move "north from Loudoun County toward Maryland and the Potomac River," VDOT reports. "You might stop at Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, or at Ball's Bluff Regional Park ... [or] Morven Park. If you continue west, you'll come to the Loudoun Valley Vineyards."

Go south, VDOT says, and the path leads to Virginia's horse country and a countryside dotted with villages and towns. Itineraries are available at http://www.virginiadot.org/programs/prog-byways-sites.asp.

For additional winery-related events, the Heart of Virginia's http://www.hovawinetrail.com Internet site offers a range of options. Coming in August is a one-day Saturday Caribbean Beach Party Luau on the grounds of Lake Anna Winery that features "exceptional food and live Caribbean music," the organization reports.

"Wear your favorite Hawaiian shirt, and dance under the stars. Taste wines ... savor delectable Caribbean foods," for $12 in advance and $15 at the door, the group continues.

A couple months later, from Nov. 1-2, Heart of Virginia offers a Harvest Passport Winetrail Weekend for $10.

"Enjoy the beautiful Virginia countryside in all its fall glory as you hop from winery to winery," the posting reads. "Your ticket gets you tastings at all four wineries, a souvenir wine glass to keep, snacks and munchies, barrel tastings and wine trail specials."

Those that can't take time for the full weekend of tastings can complete the tour at a later date; just "keep your glass and ticket and finish the trail whenever," the site reports.

The four wineries include Cooper Vineyards, in Louisa; James River Cellars, in Glen Allen; Grayhaven Winery, in Gum Spring; and Lake Anna Winery, in Spotsylvania.

Other low-cost travel ideas: Traveling bird and wildlife trails identified by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at http://www.dgif.state.va.us/vbwt, or the variety of destinations on the official Virginia Trails Web site, http://www.virginia.org/site/features.asp?featureid237. These sites range in theme from the Civil War and coal production to Captain Smith explorations and wilderness routes.

To stay even more local, though, Prince William County itself offers a variety of culturally and historically significant attractions.

The entire Brentsville District is a cultural resource site, said Supervisor Wally Covington, R-Brentsville.

"Only two districts are designated cultural resource areas," he said, and the other is Buckland, where "you get the flavor of the community as it existed at the time."

The draw with the county's cultural areas is two-fold, Covington said. The first is financial, in that tourist attractions often generate business profits and, in turn, local government tax coffers.

And the second--the ability to learn from the past, he said.

"The big benefit is from the historical perspective. You can't beat it, the chance to understand where you've come from," Covington said.

Brentsville District cultural resource areas provide insight into a variety of historically significant happenings--from the Civil War to bringing home the reality of hangings of blacks that occurred "right in front of the Brentsville Courthouse," Covington said--and for students, especially, the opportunity to feel and touch a piece of history is priceless, he added.

Other Prince William districts aren't as saturated as Brentsville's with obvious historical sites, but nonetheless, do give some tourists cause for pause and reflection.

"My district abuts Bel Air Plantation where ... a biographer of George Washington lived," said Supervisor John Jenkins, D-Neabsco. "Many early settlers in Prince William lived in that area."

And one of the county's first supervisors, Burr Glascock, is buried in a cemetery near the district border, Jenkins said.

Staff writer Cheryl Chumley can be reached at 703-670-1907.


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