By: Kelly Bondurant, Freelance Writer/Editor for Hire
After 20 years of service, Nancy Wilson, the long-serving director of the Vance County Department of Tourism, is looking forward to retiring at the end of the month.
“I’ve been working all of my life,” said Wilson. I’m ready to retire.”
Wilson’s career in tourism began in 1998 when she was hired as a contractor by the Henderson-Vance Economic Development Commission (EDC). According to Wilson, the first assignment given to her was to increase the number of fishing tournaments held at Kerr Lake. “At that time, we were not competitive with South Hill or Clarksville, VA,” Wilson said. “I had to beg the tournament directors to give us a chance; please just let us host a tournament and see how it goes.”
Wilson’s efforts paid off by way of an increase in fishing tournaments, including high dollar $100k tournaments such as the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW). “When it showed up on the front page of USA TODAY that Vance County hosted a tournament, it was great publicity for us and was worth all of the time and effort,” said Wilson.
In addition to fishing tournaments, Wilson has also been instrumental in increasing tourism at Kerr Lake thanks to the addition of a Fourth of July fireworks display. “We never had a firework display around the lake area and I thought we needed to entertain our visitors while they were there,” said Wilson. “That’s one of the biggest holidays for the parks.”
Wilson knows from experience how special the fireworks are for many visitors. “People start calling the tourism office as soon as the fireworks are over wanting to know the date for next year’s show so they can book their campsite.”
A success since its inception 20 years ago, the patriotic fireworks are held on the Saturday closest to the 4th of July to better accommodate visitors’ schedules.
Wilson is also proud of creating the Parade of Lights on Water, a floating parade featuring Kerr Lake’s best-decorated boats. A staple for several years, a decline in participation led to the cancellation of the event.
Another one of Wilson’s successful endeavors is the annual Show, Shine, Shag & Dine and East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame event held each fall. What started as a small gathering of friends grew into the economic boom that it is for Vance County today.
“It started as a group of people meeting at my house. Then we had to move it to the community building at Satterwhite Point because it kept growing and people were coming from everywhere,” Wilson said. “I thought about it for a long time and thought I could make a tourism event out of it.”
Wilson presented her idea of combining a car show and a drag car hall of fame to the Henderson-Vance EDC Board and they implemented the first event in 2001.
The exact economic impact of events such as fishing tournaments, Fourth of July events and Show, Shine, Shag & Dine is hard to calculate, but the increased spending on gas, hotel rooms, restaurants and entertainment are a huge boost to the local economy.
According to Wilson, visitors come from all over the country to attend these events, thanks in part to a strong, nationwide advertising campaign that includes multiple publications. “We advertise in recreation magazines, recreation guides, motorsports magazines, car show magazines, at welcome centers, in airports, online, on the radio and in print,” said Wilson.
When asked what advice she has for the next tourism director, Wilson said they’ll have their own ideas that will bring value to the area. She said, “I’m sure they’ll put their own twist on it and do what they think is best. If I can help in any way, I’ll be glad to.”
Wilson plans to remain active in the Roanoke River Basin Association, an organization that she feels is vital to the lake area. “I will continue to serve on the association and try to keep the County informed on issues,” Wilson said. “It is so important. That water is like liquid gold.”
As for life after retirement, Wilson says it will be a continuation of traveling all over the country, playing with cars and attending car shows.
“I don’t have a bucket list,” Wilson said. “People say when they retire they will do this or that, well, I’ve already done all of that.”
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