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New Blue Ridge Craft Trails boosts artists and heritage tourism

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership has been awarded two grants totaling $16,500 to support the Blue Ridge Craft Trails, a new initiative to boost income for craft artists and promote cultural tourism.

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The Perry N. Rudnick Endowment Fund of the Community Foundation of Henderson County granted $6,500 to BRNHA for the regional development of the Blue Ridge Craft Trails. The project aims to increase income for craft artists and businesses, enhance cultural tourism and improve economic opportunity for 25 Western North Carolina counties. The Rudnick Endowment grant provides critical, non-federal matching funds to a $100,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant recently awarded to BRNHA to conduct Phase 2 of the Craft Trails project.

In addition, the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority awarded $10,000 to BRNHA. The grant provides for the research, creation and marketing of the Blue Ridge Craft Trails in Henderson County. This partnership effort will result in the Henderson County Trails connecting with the overall Blue Ridge Craft Trails system in the 25-county Western North Carolina region.

Designed to launch a system of driveable trails for 25 Western North Carolina counties featuring 200 craft sites, the Blue Ridge Craft Trails project celebrates the region as a vibrant center for traditional and contemporary handmade crafts through the promotion of craft artisans, arts organizations and heritage tourism.

“Our goal is to grow the market for Western North Carolina crafts by creating a region-wide marketing initiative — the Blue Ridge Craft Trails — to guide consumers to craft artists in their communities and help to better align the marketing efforts of these craft institutions and craft businesses,” said Angie Chandler, executive director of BRNHA.

The project began in 2017 after receiving an initial $90,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and a matching $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

Other major support for this initiative has been provided by the Appalachian Regional Commission, NC Arts Council, Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, The Conservation Fund: Resourceful Communities Program; Community Foundation of Henderson County and the Cherokee County NC Tourism Development Authority.

Development of the Blue Ridge Craft Trails to date includes a new website (blueridgecrafttrails.com), marketing research and planning, regional listening sessions, a pilot project encompassing Clay and Cherokee counties, a map brochure, rack card, and the launch of a regional grassroots marketing initiative.