Establishing a regional tourism destination is no easy task, requiring years of fortitude and collaboration among many different community and local government leaders.

Yet, over the past decade, the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership has led the charge to accomplish just that.

Created in 2009, the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership is a regional economic development organization comprised of local government representatives and community leaders from Yadkin, Wilkes, Surry, and Caldwell counties.  Since its inception, the partnership has served as a singular voice to develop and promote a variety of tourism opportunities and awareness throughout the Yadkin Valley region.   

Hallmarks of the partnership’s success include a regional branding and promotion campaign, vehicular wayfinding system and custom maps guiding visitors to the region’s many unique tourism offerings. The partnership manages online tourism promotion through its website:

To clearly understand the effectiveness of the organization over the past 10 years, the partnership contracted Destination by Design, an economic development and planning firm based in Boone, to perform an assessment of tourism and asset growth. The resulting Yadkin Valley Tourism Progress Report reveals what many already know to be true: Yadkin Valley tourism is growing by leaps and bounds.

Since 2009, visitor economic impact in the four-county region increased 39% to an annual total of $294.66 million. In addition, regional leaders have successfully created 38 new festivals and events, attracted the development of 220 additional hotel rooms and secured grant dollars to assist with the more than $20 million that has been invested in the region’s historic main streets, trails, and quality of life infrastructure.

Partnership Chairman Eddie Barnes, also Wilkes County planning director, said the Yadkin Valley Heritage Corridor Partnership remains a catalyst for economic development throughout our four-county region and a model for how rural communities can capitalize on this type of regional approach.

Barnes said  the natural resources, wineries, historic main streets and other resources of the Yadkin Valley offer a variety of tourism opportunities for day trips or weekend getaways within a few hours of Charlotte and the Piedmont Triangle.

He noted that the partnership serves as a critical platform that taps into the collective synergy of the Yadkin Valley to create stronger brand awareness and a more powerful tourism destination.  

By facilitating public-private partnerships that advance economic development, quality of life, and tourism throughout the Yadkin Valley, the partnership’s dream of establishing the valley as a regional outdoor recreation and heritage destination is becoming a reality.

Over the past decade, the Yadkin Valley Region’s injection of more than $20 million in public projects has created more walkable main streets, expanded outdoor recreation amenities, and supported community events that celebrate the authentic history and culture of the valley.

The progress report said that since 2009, the region has added 16 new recreation outfitters, 251 acres of new state park land, 12 more river accesses, 36.8 miles of new hiking and multi-use trails and 41.9 additional miles of purpose-built mountain bike trails.

Daniel White, director of Surry County parks and recreation, said the Yadkin Valley has many natural resources that lend themselves to recreational use. The Yadkin River and its tributaries, portions of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and our state parks (Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain) provide for a growing network of regional and local trails that establish the Yadkin Valley as a significant outdoor recreational hub.

In pursuit of its goal to establish the Yadkin Valley as a premier outdoor recreation and heritage destination, the partnership continues to implement tourism development strategies that focus on enhancing the Yadkin Valley as a unified whole.  

Progress over the past 10 years has proven the power of collaboration from both an organizational and branding perspective, said Leslie Schlender, economic development director for the Town of Elkin.

She said that as local governments and community leaders continue to come together through the partnership, they continue to create a better place to live, do business and visit.  

Schlender said that what started as just a vision 10 years ago has resulted in a clear finding: as a region we are significantly stronger than we are on our own – both in terms of the number of assets to promote and also the resources we can attract to support more the sum of our individual parts.

To see the Progress Report, go to (update once report is published).

The Partnership is working with Appalachian State University’s Geography and Planning Department to conduct additional tourism research beginning in the summer of 2019.

Eric Woolridge is principal partner at Boone-based Destinations by Design.

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