GRUNDY, Va. – Joyful greetings, laughter and celebration rung out through the mountains of Buchanan County at the grand opening of the Southern Gap Visitors Center on Thursday afternoon as residents and visitors poured in by the hundreds.
The 7,500-square-foot facility is the product of a collaboration between the Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure (SGOA) and the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority with additional funding from the Virginia Coalfield Development Authority (VCEDA).
The Southern Gap Visitors Center features a 4,500-square foot banquet and event room in addition to a 2,000-square-foot observation deck providing panoramic views of the Southwest Virginia mountains.
In addition to hosting events and being an epicenter of tourism, people instrumental in the building and opening of the center hope that it can be a center hub for the residents of Buchanan County.
"We want this to be a home for Buchanan county residents,” Billie Campbell, owner of SGOA said. "We want you to be able to come here and kick your feet up and watch our beautiful sunsets.”
Rustic, picturesque decor meets the eye at the entrance of the facility. The high ceilings and warm lighting of the Welcome Center is immediately, welcoming.
"I don’t think I have ever walked into a building and felt more at home than I do here, other than my own home,” Leon Boyd, SWV Sportsman’s Club, Virginia Chapter, RMEF said. "For me that has been one of the rewarding things we can do, to be able to share Buchanan county and let people see how awesome it is.”
Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure Campground manager, Kristi Rose said she feels the center is just the beginning of something bigger for Buchanan County.
"I see this visitors center as a Walmart of sorts,” Rose said. "It can be our center attraction and it will bring businesses and restaurants to the area and they will spring up around us."
Scotty Wampler, Director of Marketing and Tourism for Buchanan County echoes Rose’s sentiment. He said the center will be the start of a change in the landscape of the area and that he does not know of a more impressive welcome center in the region than the Southern Gap Visitor’s Center.
"I think it is the next step and evolution in Southern Gap,” Wampler said. "This is a great day for Buchanan county. We have a lot of faith in the impact this center will have.”
The center is indeed, a beautiful picture of the past, present and future of Southern Gap. The tourism slogan for Buchanan County is “Embrace the Wild," and the center reflects that sentiment atop a mountain ridge. Screens throughout the banquet hall feature stunning photography and video of the region’s scenery, adventure opportunities and local elk herds, in addition to local taxidermy throughout, further advertising the area’s incredibly diverse adventure opportunities.
"To be included today, to walk in this building it is phenomenal. A showcase is a perfect phrase to describe this facility,” Shirley Edwards, of the Virginia Tourism Corporation said. "When we have facilities like this, with information readily available, we can get people here. They may come here for one reason but they will return for many other reasons. This area represents the heart and soul of Virginia. Job well done.”
Campbell thanked all of the volunteers, contractors and more for their help in completing the center. He said that in the past two years the SGOA has had visitors from 48 of the 50 United States and that would not be possible without the community working together.
"It is that kind of cooperative attitude that is going to make this work,” Campbell said. "The worst thing we can do as a community is die sitting down. If we are going to die, we will die trying. This is your facility, take ownership of it, be proud of it.”
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