By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — Local beds and breakfast inns and restaurants often see cross country travelers, but they recently served visitors who cross the globe while defending the country; and like other travelers, they represented a potential boost to the economy.
U.S. military special operations forces recently visited the Mercer County area and took advantage of the local terrain to conduct training exercises. Many residents were unaware of the soldiers crisscrossing the mountains and communities until their presence was officially announced, but local businesses were getting a glimpse of the impact military training exercises could have on the tourism economy.
Soldiers out on training exercises get a per diem amount of money for food, lodging and travel, City Manager and retired U.S. Army Col. Dane Rideout said. While the special operations personnel were visiting the county, their dollars entered the local economy.
“We have four rooms,” she said. “I was completely sold out during that week. It definitely had an impact on my booking.”
Anything that brings more visitors to Bluefield is good, Sydnor said. The troops impacted not only her bed and breakfast, but the locally owned restaurants, too.
“It’s pretty amazing, the out-of-town type of business that we’re getting,” she added. “A lot of weeks and most weekends we’re sold out. Even though we’re small, most of my guests from out of town are either traveling north or south. They’re patronizing me and patronizing local restaurants downtown. I have a lot of last-minute bookings coming through. My sister owns Patty Joe’s on Cumberland Road.”
When the special operations troops and other visitors ask about local places to eat, Sydnor refers them to restaurants such as The RailYard and the Blue Spoon Cafe; in turn, local restaurants recommend places like local bed and breakfast inns when they are asked about places to stay. And they are being referred to local attractions, too.
“We had guests last week and we got them to stay a second night because of the Bramwell Home Tours,” Sydnor said. “And they went to the Holiday of Lights.”
Four special operations soldiers stayed at the nearby Bluefield Inn, a bed and breakfast on Jefferson Street owned by Gary and Kitt McCarthy.
“We have six rooms and filled four of the six,” Gary McCarthy said. “Two were already occupied, otherwise we would have had six of them here. They said it was just like being at home.”
Coming to a place offering real beds, television and other amenities was a welcome change after training out in the mountains all day.
“They said it made their job too easy because it was like being at home,” he added, saying that having branches of the military regularly using the Mercer County area for training purposes would have “a big impact.”
In downtown Bluefield, establishments like The RailYard served visiting soldiers.
Cregger also agreed that having regular visits from military personnel would help the local economy.
“It would help us out a ton, too. The more people downtown, it works out better for everybody else and businesses downtown,” he said.
A few miles away in Bluewell, special operations troops stayed at the Buffalo Trail Resort. It wasn’t the first time they had stayed in the resort, owner Seth Peters said. They have some as ATV tourists seeking out the Pocahontas Trail, Mercer County’s branch of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. This recent visit was the first time they had come to the area for training.
“Those guys come and stay about four times a year with us,” he said. “It’s not always for training; sometimes it’s just to ride. It’s definitely good for business. We had 10 guys with us, and they ate in our restaurant all three nights; that was $4,000 or $5,000 just from this one stay.”
One hope is that military personnel visiting Bluefield and Mercer County will see the area as a place for vacations and even a place to retire, Rideout said. More military exercises have been planned for February, May, June and July of next year.
Contact Greg Jordan at [email protected]
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