Approaching completion, the new U.S. Route 48 expressway is dramatically changing tourism in the Tucker County highlands.
Now a drive of fewer than three hours from Washington, D.C., the region—long known as an outdoor-recreation paradise—is welcoming an influx of new travelers, and more are on their way, according to the marketing director for the Tucker County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"I have personally assisted people who drove an hour just to eat Hellbender Burritos," Brian Sarfino said of the blossoming market. "Restaurants are being crushed on weekends from mid-May through November 1."
"When I first started at the bureau, half of our visitors were repeat folks," he said. "Now we're seeing significant increases in visitors who have never been here before, have only heard of our area, and have no idea what there is to do here."
And there's plenty to do. What they're discovering is an outdoor-recreation destination that had been legendary among those who knew the way, but motorists are happening upon the area by chance, thanks to the expressway that leads from Virginia west to Davis.
"We're seeing an increased level of day-traffic from Winchester to D.C. to central Virginia because of it," Sarfino said. "And we're seeing more ethnic diversity, which is good for the county and the state tourism economy."
Parking is also fast becoming an issue on weekends in Davis and Thomas, two boutique towns filled with restaurants, shops, and music venues that appeal to skiers, cyclists, hikers, and photographers who visit the area in droves.
When completed, the east-west expressway will extend 157 miles from Interstate 81 near Strasburg, in northern Virginia, across the Allegheny Mountains to Interstate 79 at Weston, in north-central West Virginia.
The route across the Allegheny Mountains leads motorists through some of the state's most scenic landscapes and within easy reach of natural wonders such as Dolly Sods, the Canaan Valley, and Seneca Rocks.
A final 30-mile section of the route from Davis to near Elkins is under construction and is expected to be open within the decade. In the meantime, Davis and Thomas are enjoying the windfall of being located on a completed section.
Tucker County welcomes retro, artsy The Billy Motel & Bar
Eight years have gone by since Joy Malinowski established the Cooper House Bed & Cocktail in historic Thomas. Those of us in the Tucker County tourism industry did not predict this would be the beginning of a cult following based upon overnight accommodations—a Cult of Joy!
Her avant-garde attitude toward travel has since resulted in a second remarkable lodging option in nearby Davis—The Billy Motel & Bar, which replaced the old Mountain Aire Lodge across from the entrance of Blackwater Falls Resort State Park. Read the full story here.