The Nelson County Crush
Smitten or Smothered? Visitors drive millions into Nelson County tourism economy, boosting interest in short term rentals.
As I pen this piece on my newly-minted Substack account, visitors to Nelson County are streaming down Route 151 and US 29, and not everyone is in love with it. How long can a rural county stay that way with such interest?
We hear the sighs. As farmers take advantage of dry weather to bale the last batch of hay for the year, roads are crawling with motorists headed to this weekend’s events, namely Hoopla at Devils Backbone Brewery in Beech Grove, and the Overland Expo at the historic Oak Ridge Estate in Arrington. So when my real estate clients ask me how the market is doing in Nelson County, I tell them we’ve never seen anything like it.
The Virginia Tourism Corporation announced last week that travelers spent $61 million dollars a day last year statewide, ballooning Virginia’s tourism revenue to $25.2 billion for 2021. Out here in Nelson County, that’s an awful lot of craft beer, wine, and short term rental bookings.
Digging into the numbers, tourists to Nelson funneled $83 million to the county’s economy in 2021, representing a 27.7% increase in tourism spending compared to 2020. That’s quite a rebound given revenues plunged an alarming 18.3% that year due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions and mandates. Nelson County’s 2021 performance outpaced pre-pandemic tourism numbers: revenues for 2019 totaled $79.5 million.
So what do these numbers mean? Like the guys cutting grass this weekend, area businesses and short term rental owners are making hay while they can, as the County reaps the tax revenue. Nelson collected $3.3 million in 2021 alone (the state collected $1.8 million) because many people traveling Rt. 151 and US 29 spent their money here.
That’s mighty significant for a county with only 1 traffic light, don’t you think?
Though it’s known for its abundance of natural beauty, looks alone don’t account for the crush people seem to have on Nelson. The regulatory environment is much more favorable to those in the agri-tourism and lodging sectors. For instance, while folks living on the Albemarle County side of Afton seem more likely to push back against attempts to further expand its tourism economy, entrepreneurs and investors have shifted their gaze — and dollars — to nearby Nelson because it seems to welcome its Weekend Warriors, with attractions responding accordingly:
Wood Ridge Farm Brewery north of Lovingston now has a hemp maze to complement its corn maze, and it has recently added a golf range.
Bryant’s Cider & Brewery in Roseland just debuted disc golf.
As you might imagine, the relationship between what Nelson was, what it is now, and what it may become, is as they say … complicated. Not everyone has fallen head over heals in love with the new pastimes of clutching pints of craft beer while playing corn hole, or navigating cannabis mazes.
But it can pay the bills and farmers are making hay while they can.
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