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Belmont County tourism leaders look to capitalize on oil and gas boom

Robert A. DeFrank ATTRACTION — The Historic National Road Yard Sale helps draw people to the Belmont County region. This year’s event ended Sunday.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County leaders say the influx of oil and gas interests in recent years has brought opportunities to showcase attractions for potential sightseers.

Barb Ballint, executive director of the Belmont County Tourism Council, is looking to that potential as the tourism board prepares for the future.

Ballint reviewed this and much of the organization’s ongoing progress during her recent quarterly report to Belmont County Commissioners Josh Meyer, J.P. Dutton and Jerry Echemann. She covered the first three months of 2019 and looked to further promoting events and attractions.

“There have been so many happenings and events so far … and we know there’s going to be more to come,” she said.

Ballint pointed to the oil and gas expo held April 24 at the Ohio Valley Mall, calling it a chance to popularize tourism sites in the county. In addition, she noted her office had recently added Brooke Robinson to its staff as a new digital marketing administrator. Ballint said Robinson brings a bachelor’s degree in marketing and communications from Ohio University and will focus on social media platforms, search engine marketing and website design.

She also recognized siblings Chris and Nina Dutton, who are forming the Blame My Roots Country Music Festival. Ballint said she appreciates their initiative and that she has high hopes for the success of this venture in the absence of the traditional Jamboree in the Hills.

“We were all devastated, to be honest, especially in my office, with the announcement of Jamboree in the Hills and LiveNation going on a hiatus, but we also know how important pride and tradition is to this area,” Ballint said, noting that the Dutton family’s Valley View Campground has been a staple for past Jamboree events. “They need our local support, because that event is very important to the local economy of Belmont County. We’re going to take a hit, especially for a three-week period I would say, if we don’t have an event similar to what we are used to having in this area the third weekend in July.”

Ballint pointed out that Jamboree in the Hills had humble origins dating back to 1977 at Brush Run Park before growing in size and reputation.

The Blame My Roots fest is scheduled for July 18-20 at the Duttons’ campground, located across U.S. Route 40 from the Jamboree site east of Morristown.

In addition, there are plans in the works to capitalize on other the sites along National Road. Ballint has been working with another member of the community who is invested in tourism, John S. Marshall, a local representative of the National Road Association, which is dedicated to preserving and promoting the 193-year-old National Road.

In March, Ballint and Marshall attended a meeting in Columbus, where they proposed a marketing idea to the National Road Association board of directors. The “40 on 40” would be a self-driving tour from one side of the state to the other.

“We’re going to be promoting a marketing campaign called ’40 on 40.’ We’re going to have 40 stops along (U.S.) Route 40,” Ballint said, adding that many in Columbus see the potential in such as idea. “We have 40 stops in Belmont County alone. Look to see a promotion kickoff in 2020 for ’40 on 40′ stops in Belmont County.”

Ballint also accepted a position on the board of the Ohio National Road Association to represent Belmont County.

In other matters, she reported that nonprofit organizations in Belmont County also received their GAP grants from the tourism office March 21. A total of 43 grants were awarded, totaling more than $100,000.

“Volunteers are few and far between anymore,” she said, commending those who give their free time to civic organizations to better the community. “We have a huge group of volunteers and nonprofits that appreciate the proceeds they receive from the tourism office to continue the events and attractions.”

She added that the tourism council will promote these upcoming events if the nonprofits provide their information.

In addition, Ballint said lodging tax receipts are at about the same level as last year’s first quarter, although April’s receipts saw a slight reduction. In answer to a question from Echemann about the drop, she speculated on possible causes.

“A lot of the lodging receipts is due to the oil and gas industry. I think it has a lot to do with production and what’s going on with the infrastructure,” she said. “We can’t guarantee when those collections are coming in also.”

“Things are growing. You’re handling things very well,” Meyer said.

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