LOVEworks sign

Wytheville unveiled its new LOVE sign Wednesday. From left, Wytheville Town Council Member Mark Bloomfield, Virginia Tourism Corporation Director of Consumer & Partner Services Val Guffy, Councilman Joseph Hand, Vice Mayor Jackie King, Councilwoman Cathy Pattison. Mayor Beth Taylor is kneeling in front.

Love was all around Wytheville Wednesday as officials unveiled the town’s LOVEworks sign at Wither’s Park near the former recycling center.

The LOVE sign is part of the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s LOVEworks program that goes hand-in-hand with the state’s iconic Virginia is for Lovers message. Each letter in the word LOVE is designed to honor an aspect of Wytheville’s history that has made an impact on the community.

The L represents the influence of the railroad

The O showcases a hot air balloon, like the one painted on the town’s elevated water tank and in honor of the annual Chautauqua Festival.

The V depicts the two interstates that converge in Wytheville, along with the town’s branding theme of “Wytheville … There’s Only One.”

The E honors the town’s history with baseball, which was played in Wither’s Park behind the display.

“Many communities across the state have already participated in LOVEworks. We have been searching for the ideal spot,” said Wytheville Tourism Director Rosa Lee Jude. “The location we chose on the Monroe Street side of Withers Park is near recreation, shopping and dining as well as several of the museums. People will see the “LOVE” as they stroll on the Heritage Walk and experience all that the ‘New Downtown’ has to offer.”

The sign’s unveiling was timed to coincide with a meeting of Virginia Welcome Center employees held in Wytheville this week. During the four-day study tour, Wytheville officials, including Jude, immersed the employees in all things Wytheville so they can share information about the area to welcome center visitors throughout the state.

During their stay, the guests were on the go for three solid days, visiting local attractions and dining at hot spots like The Log House, West Wind Farm Vineyard, Graze on Main and the Fort Chiswell Mansion. They toured the town’s museums and visited venues like the Crystal Springs Recreation Area, Beagle Ridge Herb Farm, Big Walker Lookout, the Fort Chiswell Animal Park, and the New River State Park. They also enjoyed a show at the Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre.

For several welcome center employees, this week was their first visit to Wytheville or even Southwest Virginia.

Gary Bryam works at the Fredericksburg Welcome Center. Previously, he had only been as far west in Virginia as Blacksburg.

The extra 45 minutes was worth it, he said, especially the butterfly garden at Beagle Ridge.

“You walk in, and the butterflies are flying all around; that’s great,” he said.

He and others were impressed with the downtown revitalization efforts, especially the plans to renovate the Millwald Theatre.

“It’s very impressive,” Bryam said of the town’s efforts to invigorate downtown.

“It’s a lovely town,” said Julie Perry, work works at the welcome center in northern Virginia. “There is a beautiful sense of place. I love the history and scenery, and the hospitality has been great.”

She said she was particularly impressed with the passion of Beagle Ridge owner Ellen Reynolds.

“The owner’s passion permeates everything they do,” she said.

Marla Stephens, who also works in northern Virginia, agreed with Perry.

“I think it’s enchanting,” she said of Wytheville. “I love the history and the old buildings, and everybody is so friendly.”

Stephens enjoyed visiting the town’s museums and was moved by the Thomas J. Boyd Museum’s exhibit about the polio epidemic in Wythe County. She also enjoyed The Discovery Corner with interactive learning stations for children.

Jude said that hosting the VTC Welcome Center Study Tour was a huge undertaking, years in the making.

“We secured our spot on their calendar over two years ago,” she said. “Months of planning have gone into making it an experience that truly showcases our area. The Welcome Centers come into contact with over three million visitors each year. After almost four days of seeing our attractions, recreation, dining, and lodging opportunities, the travel counselors now have firsthand experience to tell travelers about. This will result in thousands of new visitors coming to Wytheville each year.”

The last time Wytheville hosted such an extensive tour for the welcome centers was 10 years ago. She said the town could not host such a multi-day event without the cooperation of local tourism businesses, the Town Council and town administration, which were “100 percent” behind the tour efforts.

“It is amazing to think about how much our area has grown and changed since then,” Jude said. “Even those businesses that were on the tour ten years ago have experienced so much growth and expansion; it is like a whole new experience for those who were on the last tour.”

To reach reporter Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email mrothrock@wythenews.com.

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