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Tourism Councils, Groups Work To Stay Relevant During Pandemic

By SHELLEY

HANSON

Staff Writer

Although travel restrictions have been lifted in Ohio and other states, many people still are staying at home in order to avoid possibly catching the COVID-19 virus.

With this in mind, local tourism councils and groups have been reaching out to people via the internet and television, reminding them of safer ways they can enjoy life and what local attractions and businesses can offer.

The Belmont County Tourism Council has provided people with fun, interactive ways to enjoy the county. For example, it set up a geocaching game that allows people to visit different historic sites in a treasure-hunt like manner.

And for those who don’t want to go out at all, the tourism council also has provided virtual tours of sites, along with virtual puzzles as well.

In her February newsletter, Barb Ballint, Belmont County Tourism Council executive director, said this is the time of year her group would be traveling and promoting the county’s attractions and events. But because of the coronavirus much of what may happen in 2021 still remains to be seen.

“Last year during this time, we had already placed over 3,000 of our travel guides into the hands of potential visitors. Unfortunately, travel expos and shows have been cancelled. But the office continues to elevate recognition of Belmont County through our social media platforms and by way of mailings,” she wrote.

Ballint noted a new geocaching tour is going to be launched, featuring 30 different locations across the county. Those who find all 30 caches, she said, can get a Belmont County GeoTour coin.

She noted the council is continuing to offer its Grant Assistance Program, which helps nonprofit organizations continue funding fairs, festivals and museums.

“So, even though we have not participated in the annual travel shows, it has still been a busy and exciting time of year for us,” Ballint wrote.

To help support its member businesses and the community, the St. Clairsville Chamber of Commerce helped host and promote shopping events in downtown St. Clairsville during warm weather months during the pandemic. Businesses were encouraged to feature some of their wares on the sidewalks in front of their businesses. And local vendors, artists and food trucks also could participate.

In a similar vein, starting in March, the chamber plans to kick off St. Clairsville Second Saturdays, a weekly event to allow vendors and musicians to show off their wares and talents in the downtown and around the city. There is a reservation fee required.

The Harrison County Visitors Center, Cadiz, continues to promote its county’s attractions and activities via Facebook. Because of pandemic restrictions, it helped promote a new way to hold a Christmas parade last year — a drive-by parade. The floats were stationary allowing people to drive-by and look at them safely.

Also in Harrison County, the pandemic didn’t keep the Clark Gable Museum from celebrating the Cadiz native and movie star’s 120th birthday this year, either. In addition to celebrating at the house on Feb. 1, the museum was also featured on Sal’s Virtual Road Trip, a program that can be viewed on YouTube.

In Jefferson County, the Steubenville Visitor Center also continues to keep people informed and entertained via its use of social media. The city also went ahead with its Nutcracker Village in downtown Steubenville during the holidays.

Though at one point public health officials raised some concerns about crowds there, the event continued with officials enforcing social distancing and mask guidelines to the best of their abilities.

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