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New visitor center in Page County set to open next week: What’s going on?

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For the past several years, the Luray-Page Chamber of Commerce, Page County Visitor Center and railway museum were all operated from the restored 1906 Norfolk & Western train depot at 8 Campbell St.

Beginning July 1, the new Page Valley Visitor Center will be run by a completely separate organization (and in a separate location) from the Luray-Page Chamber of Commerce.

June 18 editorial posted by the publisher of Page Valley News questioned the lack of public information and what seemed to be secrecy in the planning process of the decision.

On June 22, the town posted an agenda for its June 25 Town Council meeting. Within it was an official statement from the town of Luray:

The Council is requested to review and consider an update regarding the proposed operations of the Chamber of Commerce and the Depot facility starting July 1.

Beginning July I, the contract to operate the Visitor Center between Page County and the Chamber of Commerce will expire and has not been renewed. As a result, the Visitor Center will cease to operate at the 18 Campbell Street (Depot) location. The loss of the Visitor Center at this widely advertised location will significantly impact guests coming to our area.

The Chamber will continue to operate there, but on a reduced schedule and with reduced staffing. The remaining staff will be present to conduct Chamber operations only and not serve as an information resource for the guests visiting Luray. LDI continues to operate their office and office hours there on a limited basis.

Accordingly, the Depot facility will only be open to the public during the new Chamber scheduled hours (whatever those are – it may be limited hours or none). This will impact public access to the Train Museum, the Conference Room use (by scheduled appointment only), and the public restrooms.

Additionally, the existing signs around Luray for the Visitor Center will have to be changed or removed to eliminate confusion by visitors and tourists.

Finally, the closure of the Depot facility on the weekends will impact the operation of the Farmer’s Market there on the first and third Saturdays of each month at their advertised location. They will not have access to the public restrooms nor the conference room for classes.

The Town could consider amending its lease with the Chamber to facilitate the revised space needs, and to consider staffing the structure with part-time staff to enable use of the facility conference room by non-profit community groups and to keep the train museum and public restrooms open during periods of the week and weekend when most use is anticipated.

On Monday evening, a post appeared on the official Page County, Virginia Facebook page:

Dear Page County Citizens,

It is with mixed emotions that we announce the proposed location for the Page Valley Visitor Center. The bittersweet aspect of this news is the upcoming retirement of Jack and Gigi Foster from Appalachian Trail Outfitters. Jack and Gigi have made significant contributions to our community, showing unwavering dedication to thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Their iconic retail business, which traces its roots back to the days of Gary and Linda Drum and Howard and Andy Thompson, has been a cornerstone of our area.

However, as the saying goes, “when one door closes, another opens.” Upon learning of Jack and Gigi’s retirement plans, their landlord, Judy Anderson, reached out to inform the economic development and tourism department of the upcoming vacancy, hoping to find a new business to occupy this space.

Just days after the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce denied a request from the county to sublease the current train depot space to continue operating a visitor center there, the county inquired about the possibility of renting this new space.

During the lease review process, we needed to keep this information confidential to respect the business owner’s timing in announcing their plans. Today, we are thrilled to share that everyone is ready to reveal the proposed site for the Page Valley Visitor Center at 2 West Main Street in Downtown Luray.

We believe this new location will significantly enhance our community, providing increased visibility and accessibility for visitors. We are excited about the future and look forward to welcoming more visitors to our wonderful area.

According to its website, Page Valley (a “destination marketing organization”) is overseen by the Page County Office of Economic Development and Tourism alongside the Page County Tourism Council. The Director of Economic Development and Tourism is Nina Long Fox. Gina Hilliard is the current director of the Luray-Page Chamber of Commerce.

As of the 2022 census, the county’s population was nearing 24,000. Residents are encouraged to regularly review posted agendas and attend government meetings.

The Luray Town Council conducts regular meetings on the second Monday of each month at 7:00pm. Work Sessions are conducted on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 5:30 pm. Meetings are held in the Luray Council Chambers within their Municipal Offices at 45 East Main Street.

The Page County Board of Supervisors meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of every month at 103 S Court Street (Board Room, 2nd Floor) in Luray.

Tracy Leicher is an independent journalist. Her website is TracyLeicher.com.