Are you looking for a vacation destination that offers endless adventure and relaxation? Well, look no further than northeastern North Carolina’s charming lake and river towns. Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit NC, and Bruce Tyler, co-founder of Weldon Mills Distillery, recently conducted a satellite media tour to talk about the hidden gems and local hotspots that make this region so special.
A video accompanying this announcement is available at: https://youtu.be/CF6-KlI9A90
With spring in full flow, Visit North Carolina rolls out Dream Big in Small Town NC in the state’s Northeast Lakes & Rivers region, an area dotted with waterside gems, refreshing views and resonant history. Travelers can try their luck with sweepstakes prizing as they follow the Dream Big initiative’s roadmap to under-the-radar destinations that will welcome a boost in visitation and interest in longer stays.
“Halifax, Henderson, Tarboro, Warrenton — these towns and others invite travelers to cozy up and connect,” said Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit North Carolina. “Their appeal is immediate as well as timeless with fresh vitality springing from the big dreams of hometown heroes and newly arrived visionaries. Now is a perfect time for travelers to discover places worth knowing.”
Dream Big in Small Town NC, created by the General Assembly as the Rural Tourism Recovery Pilot Program, targets 16 counties at risk for population loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative began with a focus on five Scenic Mountain counties and now continues in Edgecombe, Halifax, Vance and Warren counties, whose bodies of water include Kerr Lake, Lake Gaston, and the Tar and Roanoke rivers. The final phase, beginning in June, will zero in on seven Inner Banks counties.
Easily reached from exits along Interstates 85 and 95, the Northeast Lakes & Rivers destinations combine distinctive culture with landmark history plus natural beauty and recreation. Start the getaway dream by entering the sweepstakes for a chance to win:
· A $1,000 voucher from program partner Airbnb.
· Three $100 gift cards for a choice of restaurants, shops and activities.
· A $500 gift card from Visit NC to assist with travel expenses.
For outdoor lovers, the rivers and lakes create ample reason to explore, Tuttell said. In Henderson, Kerr Lake and its 850 miles of shoreline have a dozen local access points, including eight in a state recreation area known for hiking and birding as well as water activities. At Lake Gaston, between Warrenton and Roanoke Rapids, adventure seekers can sign up for lessons from international wakeboarding champion Adam Fields’ AF Wake. Tarboro visitors can access the scenic Tar River Paddle Trail, and distance paddlers can embark on the Roanoke River State Trail from Weldon. Stunning views of history and nature reward hikers and bikers at Medoc Mountain State Park and on the Roanoke Canal Museum & Trail, which makes loaner bikes available.
“There’s joy in these outdoor activities plus a sense of wonder from the historic moments since the time of the Tuscarora,” Tuttell said. “In Halifax, North Carolina became the first colony to call for independence from Britain. Weldon was home to the world’s longest railroad, which played an outsize role in Civil War history. The Roanoke Canal Trail includes stops on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Princeville became one of the first towns in the country chartered by Black residents, and Warren County is recognized as the ‘birthplace of environmental justice’ based on a 1982 protest.”
If economic growth has favored urban areas in recent decades, the Lakes & Rivers towns have been fortified by a deep-rooted community spirit and sense of possibility. Ambitious locals who left have returned with big ideas for revitalizing and reinventing the places where they grew up. Homecoming enterprises include Tarboro’s On the Square restaurant and Tarboro Brewing, Halifax’s Hen & the Hog and Halifax Studios, and Littleton’s Blue Jay Bistro, Main Street Wines and Daphne’s Coffee Shop plus the revitalized Lakeland Cultural Arts Center. Near Norlina, Seven Springs Farm & Vineyard opened in 2020 to become a popular spot for music events and wine tastings.
Lori Medlin, president and CEO of the Halifax County Convention & Visitors Bureau, cites a pair of entrepreneurs who were inspired to turn a former sleepwear factory in Weldon into a distillery. Almost immediately after opening in 2019, Weldon Mills Distillery gained national attention with its award-winning bourbons and other spirits. The founders of Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck arrived by way of Great Britain. And in nearby Vance County, downtown Henderson attracted an achiever who opened The Eleanor on Belle hotel and a shop called Gear and Beer.
“Small towns are best explored at leisure,” Tuttell said. “Between the outdoors and the distinctive downtowns, there’s infinite opportunity to dream big in our Lakes & Rivers destinations.”
Dream Big comes with a two-facet approach to economic development: a tourism promotion to infuse revenue into local economies plus appeal to people interested in relocation. As a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, Visit NC is coordinating Dream Big with the N.C. Department of Commerce and other private and public entities involved in growing the state’s first-in-talent workforce.
Funded with $1.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, the initiative has a dedicated presence on VisitNC.com, complete with links for job postings in the Scenic Mountains (Graham, Haywood, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey) and Inner Banks (Chowan, Gates, Hertford, Martin, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington) as well as the Northeast Lakes & Rivers. The Dream Big homepage also links to the Airbnb website with content to help travelers plan trips and find short-term rental properties in each region.
Beyond the exposure from the satellite media tour and sweepstakes, Dream Big will reach the traveling public via @VisitNC’s social media channels. A digital content creator campaign is bringing selected tastemakers to the destinations to engage followers in the local culture and lifestyle appeal for people interested in a long-term change of scenery. Program partner Airbnb, which is also promoting the campaign on its social media channels, is using its inventory of short-term rental properties to host the content creators.
“North Carolina is full of unmatched opportunities for big dreams to take hold,” Tuttell said. “We want people to bring them here and make them real.”
· For a quick look at enticements in Dream Big destinations, click here.
· Find photos from Dream Big destinations here.
About Wit Tuttell
Wit Tuttell was named Executive Director of Visit North Carolina in November 2013. He oversees the strategic planning, policy development and marketing initiatives for North Carolina's official state tourism office and the industry sectors it serves.
North Carolina's state tourism office, formerly the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film, and Sports Development, was transferred to the non-profit Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina in October 2014 and renamed Visit North Carolina.
Tuttell has been in North Carolina tourism since 2006. During this time, the office has been recognized with numerous national awards for excellence in marketing and advertising. He has served as chair of the board of directors of Travel South USA and serves on the board of the U.S. Travel Association. In 2022, Tuttell was named State Tourism Director of the Year by the National Council of State Tourism Directors.
He has more than 30 years’ experience in the tourism industry including working for Universal Studios Florida and the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. He graduated from the University of Florida and was also a reporter for the Anchorage (Alaska) Times.
About Bruce Tyler
Attorney Bruce Tyler, a 26-year Army veteran, and Michael Hinderliter opened Weldon Mills Distillery in 2019. Their quest to create a distillery in a historic building with character led them to Weldon, a historic town on the Roanoke River that's known as the “rockfish capital of the world.”
Weldon Mills quickly became a regular award winner at competitions, including the East Coast Craft Spirits Awards, the Microliquor Spirit Awards, the SIP Awards and the San Diego International Wine and Spirits Challenge, which named Weldon Mills the Distillery of the Year for 2022. Best known for its bourbons (The All Malt, Reserve, Select and Soldier's Cut, which honors the 82nd Airborne Division and raises money for Gold Star Families), Weldon Mills also crafts vodka, gin, tequila and other spirits.
Tyler is vice president of the Distillers Association of North Carolina Board of Directors.
About Visit North Carolina:
Visit North Carolina is part of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. Established in 2014, the EDPNC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that oversees the state's efforts in business and job recruitment and retention, international trade, and tourism, film and sports development. The mission of Visit North Carolina is to unify and lead the state in developing North Carolina as a major destination for leisure travel, group tours, meetings and conventions, sports events and film production. For more information on North Carolina’s destinations and travel assets, go to VisitNC.com.