Virginia Oyster Trail trying to make a name for the state’s oyster
The Virginia Oyster Trail is trying to make a name for the Virginia oyster. Maine has its lobster, Alaska has salmon and Virginia has the oyster. “We want to make the Virginia oyster a household name,” exclaimed Sherri Smith, executive director of The Virginia Oyster Trail and the Artisans Center of Virginia.
In 2014, the Virginia Tourism Corporation worked with other state and community groups to begin branding the Virginia oyster. They partnered with the governor’s office, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Shellfish Growers of Virginia, the Virginia Seafood Council, Virginia Marine Products Board, local tourism offices and planning districts, and private partners.
“Everyone realized this could be more than just a regional effort,” Smith said. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe enlisted the help of the Artisans Center of Virginia, which was already managing artisan trails on the Eastern Shore and Northern Neck.
In 2015 Smith and her staff began meeting with watermen, aquaculturalists and industry groups. In 2016 businesses began joining the trail. It’s a visitor-directed “journey of discovery” that includes waterman/aqua-artisan sites as well as culinary, cultural, hospitality and activities.
One could plan a trip to the Eastern Shore, for example, and visit Tom’s Cove Aquafarms to see how Tommy Clark raises oysters off Chincoteague Island. Then you could enjoy some of those oysters at Don’s Seafood Restaurant in downtown Chincoteague. Later you might visit Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek in Northampton County to savor Virginia wine that pairs nicely with the seaside region’s salty oysters that have a sweet butter/cream finish.
Stay the night at the Waterside Inn on Chincoteague Island, and the next day you could stop in at Karen Tweedie Jewelry Design in Accomack County. Tweedie crafts necklaces, earrings and pendants with cultured pearls, as well as oyster jewelry made of bronze and accented with pearls.
Today there are 31 aqua/agri-artisans, which are businesses featuring the Virginia oyster, such as waterman tours and oyster boat experiences, wineries serving Virginia oysters, and breweries and distilleries creating beverages with oysters. There also are 43 restaurants, 22 lodging facilities, 15 artists or art venues creating art featuring oysters, and seven tour sites. All are listed at virginiaoystertrail.com.
The oyster trail “is drawing attention to the industry and raising awareness of the Virginia oyster,” Smith said. “We want people to know the oyster is more than just a yummy food. It has environmental and economic benefits as well.”