A 333-mile route with attractions that celebrate Southwest Virginia's cultural and musical heritage brings in about $9.2 million annually and supports 131 jobs in the region, according to a Virginia Tech study.

The Crooked Road, founded in 2004, attracts visitors from outside the commonwealth to music events at venues in the region through its marketing and programming.

Some 42 percent of event attendees along the music trail are tourists, and 20 percent of them come directly because of The Crooked Road’s marketing. Some even hail from as far away as Canada, France, Australia, and Britain. The data come from a study by the Office of Economic Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech.

“It’s really kind of just putting you out there. It’s like another social media, another part of that,” said Jason McGuire, owner of the Hillbilly Opry, which joined The Crooked Road in 2013.

Once these visitors are in town, they’re likely to take advantage of all Southwest Virginia has to offer – such as shopping, visiting museums, and hiking – extending the benefits of The Crooked Road beyond the music stages, the study found.

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“Organizations like The Crooked Road exist to really create opportunities for communities in this region,” said Jack Hinshelwood, director of The Crooked Road. “It’s all about using these assets that we have right here in front of us, which are really our strengths.”

For communities that depend on declining industries, such as coal mining, The Crooked Road provides a needed boost to the local economy. Charlie McConnell led the historic Lays Hardware Center for the Arts to The Crooked Road as the music trail was being founded to help curb the impact of coal-industry cutbacks in Coeburn, Virginia.

Band plays on stage during square dancing workshop
Virginia Tech got in on some of the fun on The Crooked Road with a festival that included a square dancing workshop in 2014 at the Moss Arts Center, with music provided by the Giles Mountain String Band.

“We thought, let’s pursue The Crooked Road as an economic development effort as well as raising the quality of life for Southwest Virginia,” said McConnell, who is on the board of directors for Lays Hardware. “With the coal industry on a tremendous decline, we are grasping onto anything that could have a positive impact for this area.”

Though the numbers provide insight – Hinshelwood said they are an inducement for funders – the focus remains on preserving the rich heritage of the region.

“The Crooked Road certainly hasn’t created music. The music was here; it certainly always will be here,” Hinshelwood said. “The Crooked Road just shined a light on it, so that the rest of the world could see and appreciate how rich and valuable the music traditions here really are.”

The Office of Economic Development has posted the study online.

Written by Erica Corder, a 2016 graduate of Virginia Tech majoring in political science and English.

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