Main and Mulberry Podcast – Taylor Spellman, Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

If you love the outdoors, this episode is for you! We met with Taylor Spellman of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge to discuss America’s mountain-biking capital, Roanoke Virginia. Learn about the Mill Mountain Star, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and how you can #beatrailsetter on over 1,000 miles of trails. It’s a true “glamper’s paradise.”

Transcript:

00:12 Anna Bell: Hello, and welcome to this episode of Main and Mulberry. I’m your host, Anna Bell, and today I’m so excited to have with us Taylor Spellman, the Director of Public Relations for the Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge in Roanoke, Virginia. Taylor, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.

Hi Anna, thank you for inviting me.

Absolutely, we’re so excited to learn all about Roanoke, Virginia and the Virginia Blue Ridge area, so we’re at that time of the year, Taylor, where things are kinda transitioning from the hot of summer to the beautiful colors of fall. Are you seeing some of that in the Roanoke area right now?

00:52 Taylor Spellman: We are. You know it’s such a beautiful time of year. Virginia’s Blue Ridge has four beautiful seasons, but fall certainly is one of our favorite… The picture behind me is of the Roanoke Star. It’s taken by Creative Dog Media, and this is what we’re looking forward to. We’re not quite peak color yet. Like you said, in between that summer and that fall time frame where the leaves are still green, but there’s little pops of color that are just trying to sneak through.

01:22 Anna Bell: Shining through, huh? Oh I love it. I love it. Well, we can’t wait to learn all about Roanoke and the area. To really kick things off, Taylor, for those of us who have not yet had the opportunity to visit, can you really help us understand where you’re located in the state of Virginia, and maybe share a little bit about the make-up of the Virginia Blue Ridge area.

01:43 Taylor Spellman: Sure, yeah, I’d love too. For folks who haven’t been to Virginia’s Blue Ridge, our region is in the western part of Virginia. Roanoke is kind of the hub of where our region, the heart of our region, and it’s located just about… Right off of Interstate 81 and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. So the iconic America’s favorite drive, and it’s one of our biggest assets, but Roanoke is the largest city off of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the state of Virginia, and so our region really capitalizes on being Virginia’s Blue Ridge, and the region as a whole encompasses five different cities of counties that surround Roanoke, so if you can come to the area, there’s plenty to do, plenty to see within an easy drive where you can have a metro mountain mixture of adventure from culinary high lights to mountain adventures. Peak fall season brings wonderful opportunities to see the fall color and those mild temperatures of in the beginning and throughout the fall season really allow for that too.

02:47 Anna Bell: That’s wonderful. And a lot of our listeners may know geographically, that Appalachian Trail, you’re along that Appalachian Trail, right? Roanoke?

02:57 Taylor Spellman: Absolutely, yeah, that’s another really big part of our region. Roanoke is home to three really iconic summits along the Appalachian Trail, so the Appalachian Trail in its entirety goes across a couple of different states, and Virginia takes up a big chunk of that. So within the Virginia’s Blue Ridge region, the McAfee Knob Summit, that kind of looks like a diving board, has some really spectacular views. That’s here in Roanoke, also Dragon’s Tooth, which is kind of a protruding straight up rock formation at the summit is also here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and then the Twin Creeks, excuse me, Tinker Cliff. Also in the region as well.

03:43 Anna Bell: I’ve heard that’s called the Triple Crown, is that not right? Very cool, that’s awesome.

03:47 Taylor Spellman: So we’re really lucky not only to have the large Parkway and a significant amount of the Blue Ridge Parkway in our region, but the Appalachian Trail certainly takes a lot of those popular, well-known hikes. They’re challenging, they’re stunning. It’s really worth the effort that you put behind it, but you’ve got over 1000 miles of trail too… So that includes hiking, paddling, mountain biking, and so lots of opportunity for adventure, and we’re fortunate for that.

04:16 Anna Bell: Wow, that’s so awesome. But Roanoke is, I think I’ve been told, Roanoke is one of the largest cities though, along that Appalachian Trail, right?

04:26 Taylor Spellman: It is, it’s definitely close by in one of the larger communities where hikers can kinda come and check out the outfitters and if they need to restock on gear. Certainly a lot of places where they can find what they need. And there’s also great cuisine restaurants. Close by to the Appalachian Trail, McAfee Knob, and Dragon’s Tooth is a restaurant called The Home Place, and it’s the iconic on the trail. A lot of folks kinda hop off and go have a family style Southern meal, biscuits and chicken and vegetables, and it’s very southern. You sit at a big table, and it’s kind of a refill situation, you place your…

05:04 Anna Bell: I was about to say you’re having to carb load, right, after all that good walking and being outside. You’re looking for a real good heavy meal, huh? Awesome, I’ve been told that the area is called a metro mountain adventure. Can you kinda tell us what that means?

05:21 Taylor Spellman: Yes, and I would love to tell you, so, we are so proud of Virginia’s Blue Ridge and the offering that we can provide. Whether it’s a mountain experience where you feel like you’re at the top of a beautiful mountain, the Appalachian Trail of Blue Ridge Parkway are some of our other spots, but you feel secluded and in the middle of nature, but you’re really only a couple of minutes away from a community or a downtown area that has a white table cloth experience just waiting for you. So our competitive edge as a destination is if you’re looking for adventure during the day and fine cuisine and arts and culture and entertainment at night, you can have the best of both worlds here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

06:03 Anna Bell: Oh, that’s great. And I’ve heard that the Blue Ridge Parkway is one particular drive that you’ve got to make, right?

06:11 Taylor Spellman: Absolutely, it is. It’s known as America’s favorite Drive, and the Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia. So Virginia’s Blue Ridge and the Roanoke area, we’ve got about eight different exit and entry points, and it’s free, you can see the Blue Ridge Parkway and hop on and hop off, and certainly enjoy again, the four full seasons on the Parkway. It’s a slower pace. So if you’re kinda making a road trip and you wanna hop off to interstate for more scenic, enjoyable kind of wildlife, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a two-lane road that really wines and ebbs and flows along scenic overlooks, so we can kind of stop, hop out, take pictures. But it’s just an easy, enjoyable and scenic ride.

06:56 Anna Bell: I can bet every little stop that you make you wanna take about 100 pictures, ’cause everywhere you turn is probably just the most beautiful scenery… outdoor space, you know.

07:07 Taylor Spellman: It really is. And one of them, there’s a place, a lodge and a restaurant and a hiking opportunity that you can take on milepost 86 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s called Peaks of Otter, so you can stop… They’ve got a beautiful lake, it’s called Abbott Lake, where you can have a picnic or you can choose to eat in the restaurant at the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Stay, their pet friendly. So a lot of folks have got really close with their pets, and the pets don’t wanna stay home now that we’ve all been home with the pandemic, so Blue Ridge is absolutely pet-friendly and then you can hike Sharp Top, which is great across from the Peaks of Otter Lodge, so…

Anna Bell: Wow, that sounds like a really great spot.

Taylor Spellman: It is, it’s kind of that destination there, once you get off the parkway, you can stretch your legs, you can refuel and re-rest and capture all the things in one.

07:57 Anna Bell: Awesome, let’s jump right in because we’re talking about all these amazing outdoor adventures that we can be having in Virginia’s Blue Ridge… VBR, right. That’s what… It’s also known as, Virginia’s Blue Ridge, but in particular for our listeners that really enjoy biking in the trails, that they are the ones that really should be coming to check you guys out… Right, you said 1000 miles of trails for adventuring.

08:25 Taylor Spellman: 1000 miles of trails for adventure, so that’s collective in the region. We’ve got water trails, hiking trails and mountain biking trails, a thousand of that, over 300 miles of mountain biking trails and single track in a variety of different places. Virgina’s Blue Ridge is known as Americans East Coast mountain biking capital.

Anna Bell: That’s neat.

Taylor Spellman: Yeah. So the reason we’ve earned that is the destination has a variety of trails for beginner, all the way up to very advanced, and along with that, we’ve got the amenities to accommodate these types of cyclists or mountain bike riders. In addition to that even further, we’ve got a destination that offers places and things to do outside of just mountain biking. So the International Mountain Bicycling Association awards three different levels, a gold, a silver and a bronze level, to destinations that have amenities, and we’ve ranked as a silver destination. We’ve got a plethora of trails mixed with amenities to kinda complement that.

Anna Bell: Oh, how wonderful.

09:30 Taylor Spellman: So you know, if you take a trip across the country to come mountain biking here, you’ll find that and you can also make a very great destination kind of vacation around it as well.

Anna Bell: So neat. And it’s not just for cyclists, right, we can all really enjoy the outdoor recreation that the area has to offer. There’s exceptional opportunities, I’m sure, that you started to touch on earlier with the paddling and fishing, other water sports, maybe we can touch on that for a minute.

09:58 Taylor Spellman: Sure. Oh yeah, so exactly. To back on your point, Virginia’s Blue Ridge is a good destination if you’re a beginner or if you’re an expert, so… And that goes for all adventures, if you’re interested in kind of trying out mountain biking or trying out paddling, we’ve got outfitters that can set you up with the gear. You can come here without any gear and find it, and they can drop you off at a trail head or put you in the river, and you can kinda get paddling or get riding that way, but as it relates to…

Anna Bell: Get back to nature, right? Talk about get back to nature. That’s awesome.

Taylor Spellman: Yeah, and so for water activity, we’ve got Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest man-made lake in Virginia, and that’s here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge in Franklin County, and it’s perfect for recreational boating, some really great fishing out there, wonderful for stepping if people are into paddle boarding. And then we’ve also got the Upper James River Water Trail, which is in Buchanan in ____ Virginia. And yes, it’s called Buchanan, and the Upper James River Water Trail is very much praised for the pristine water ways and the fishing opportunities that it has as well. It’s class one and two rapids, but it’s also been recognized as a scenic river, from the Virginia Scenic River Designation Program, which really allows visitors to kind of expect the top notch quality of a beautiful water way here, from kayaking, canoeing. You name it, camping. Glamping.

11:26 Anna Bell: That’s awesome. Yes, and glamping. You can’t forget the glampers now, right.

11:32 Taylor Spellman: I love the opportunity to hit the James river. It’s really so peaceful and you’re really… You’re paddling between these stunning mountain overlooks and you just kinda feel consumed in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, and they can offer you multi-day paddling trips with ____ outfitter where you can paddle down the James River, hop out after a day of paddling and glamp on the side and then get back in your canoe and continue that on. So having the chance to make coffee and wake up and just be in the middle of nature and drink your coffee on the river.

12:08 Anna Bell: After the year we’ve had, doesn’t that sound just wonderful? Oh, I know a lot of people would come just for that very reason, like you said, having some good breakfast out in nature, that sounds like the ticket and… I love that. So in addition, we talked earlier about the Blue Ridge Parkway that drive, but you also have Roanoke River Blueway, right. So, so a good place on the words here.

12:32 Taylor Spellman: That’s right. Yeah. So the Roanoke River is, weaves kinda throughout our region, but certainly has a good spot to hop in and out in the downtown area. Also, along the Roanoke River is a Roanoke River Greenway, and the Greenway is a paved pedestrian-friendly kind of activity where you can ride your bicycle, run, there’s multiple races that have been running and things like that, that kind of happens. So the Roanoke River is another awesome way to experience the water ways here. It also cuts through the Explore Park, which is an outdoor destination that we also have here with zip-lining and paddling, some more glamping and camping, so that’s a perfect place to hit the river as well.

13:16 Anna Bell: And it also sounds like maybe a good family-friendly place to stop. My kids would be all about some zip-lining right now.

13:22 Taylor Spellman: Absolutely, they have a wonderful program through Tree Top Quest, who facilitates their zip-lining, so kids ages 4 and up can actually zip line. They’ve got courses that are very safely secured with a ballet program that keeps you clipped in the whole time. So it’s a safety feature that’s really well received, and they just do a really great job out there. So yeah, it’s a variety of zipline courses and aerial treetop courses. So think of American Ninja Warrior in the tree tops.

13:58 Anna Bell: Yeah.

Taylor Spellman: But the whole time you’re clipped in, so…

Anna Bell: Talk about thrilling. That sounds so much fun.

Taylor Spellman: Absolutely.

Anna Bell: Yeah. So Taylor, there was one thing on your website that really stood out to me, and it was your hashtag tobeatrailsetter, hashtag trailsetter. Will you share with our Main and Mulberry listeners, what that really means to be a hashtag trailsetter.

14:20 Taylor Spellman: Yeah, so be a trail setter is something that we launched about a year ago, maybe a year and a half ago. And it really allows people to kind of create their own adventure. So when you come to Virginia’s Blue Ridge, we want our trail setters to create their own adventure. So whether you’re out on the trails, the actual trails, hiking or biking or paddling, or whether you’re on a culinary trail, or a craft beverage trail, or on an arts and culture situation throughout the region, all of those are different trails. You can fall into one or all of those kind of categories, and you don’t have to choose… ’cause when you’re here, you have such easy access to such a variety of amenities year-round that you really can kinda choose your own adventure.

15:06 Anna Bell: Oh, I love that. That’s so fun, because when you’re visiting a new town, yes, you’re gonna go down all these different avenues, like we’re talking about these outdoor adventures or a culinary adventure. That’s so fun. Taylor, is there a particular trail maybe that you enjoy exploring or maybe a favorite outdoor activity that you enjoy in Virginia’s Blue Ridge area?

15:30 Taylor Spellman: There is, I love… There’s so many things that we enjoy, Explore Park is definitely near and dear. I really enjoy going there. They have such a wonderful holiday event as well, called The Illuminights, which is a walking tour. It’s so spectacular. The Blue Ridge Parkway is beautiful. I love being on the Upper James River Water Trail and the hopping over and getting a burger at Foot of the Mountain Cafe after a day on the water.

Anna Bell: I bet that hits the spot, doesn’t it.

Taylor Spellman: It really does. So many of our downtown Roanoke and Salem shopping opportunities. It’s so easy to park the car and just have a walkable experience.

16:11 Anna Bell: I’m glad you’re talking about the downtown area because I would love to talk about Roanoke and your downtown area. Maybe you can be our tour guide for a minute, Taylor, and just kind of guide us through the downtown. Start with what we’ll be seeing when we first get out of the car. Are we seeing a lot of buildings that have maybe history and charm, or is it some newly built buildings?

16:33 Taylor Spellman: Yeah, good question. So again, Virginia’s Blue Ridge has five different cities and areas that we represent, but in downtown Roanoke, when you come to the hub, the center of the region, and you get out of your car and you’re in downtown Roanoke, there’s a lot of history where history meets a modern twist, right? We’ve got some historic city market. It’s the oldest outdoor operating, I guess, open air operating market in the Commonwealth of Virginia. So there’s ____ signs up. They’re vibrant and colorful with produce and flowers and artisans. Sometimes on the weekend, you’ll hear music playing, a live music performance in the square, and you’re kind of in this market square where you’re surrounded by shops like She’s International Boutique and downtown breweries and restaurants with pizza slices that are bigger than your head at Benny’s. Pop into an outfitter, we’ve got Downshift which has bikes and beer and food, and so it’s kind of that whole scene together, and a lot of downtown local art painted on the windows and the shops of our area. We’ve also got an outdoor amphitheater that has a lot of different performances, some beautiful fountains and its fair vendors are set up, but you can really find a festival any time a year here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, especially in downtown Roanoke.

17:59 Anna Bell: What a special treat. That sounds so wonderful to be able to go and experience that and walk around and see all these different vendors… Oh, that sounds like an experience in and of itself.

Taylor Spellman: It is, and I’ll urge, when you get here, there’s this beautiful modern art museum, it’s called the Taubman Museum of Art, and it kind of protrudes out from the downtown, and it kind of extends an arm that welcomes you through its architectural points when you arrive in downtown and just beyond it, we’ve got some neon signs, that are old historical signs on top of a building, and then beyond that is this overlook. Mill Mountain is right in our downtown, and we’ve got this 100 foot star that originally was in 1949, put up as a Christmas decoration by the Merchants Association, and they just decided to leave it.

Anna Bell: The star atop the tree huh?

Taylor Spellman: On top of our Mill Mountain, and it lights up every single night, from dusk until dawn. It’s lit up in neon white color. So you can see the star and you see this mountain and this historic beautiful Hotel Roanoke and this Art Museum. It’s really a unique, very welcoming, charming city to see.

19:13 Anna Bell: Taylor, how long have you been in the area?

19:16 Taylor Spellman: So I moved here in 2001, so we’ve been here a really long time. I call it home. My husband and I live in Botetourt, and it’s very family-friendly, but also energetic enough to… To certainly inhabit any type of lifestyle.

19:31 Anna Bell: Yeah. And does the scenery ever get old? I can’t imagine it does.

Taylor Spellman: It doesn’t. Nope.

Anna Bell: Oh, that’s so great. Well, kinda tell us too… Virginia’s Blue Ridge area also offers a very diverse cultural and culinary experience. We were touching on that earlier. Maybe you can share some of the food that we can expect to experience when we come to visit with you.

19:57 Taylor Spellman: Sure, absolutely. So we’ve got a handful of cuisine options, and it really can kind of excite any type of palette. So you could go from having huge calzones and a craft beer from Mac and Bob’s in Salem. Salem also has a minor league baseball team, and so it’s a perfect kind of way to fill up on some wonderful calzones and craft beer, or you can certainly go for the more southern traditional route at The Roanoker Restaurant that have these beautiful fluffy buttery, amazing biscuits. They’re so known for their biscuits, and it’s phenomenal.

20:36 Anna Bell: You can’t turn down a biscuit, can you?

20:38 Taylor Spellman: Roanoker is a must see. And then we’ve got these culinary trail setters that are really doing some amazing things. Bloom Restaurant is a new restaurant and wine bar that does tappa style meals and very seasonal fresh flavors. Lucky Restaurant has been very well known for their craft libations and their cuisine. River and Rail is another one that is a must see, and then we’ve got great flavors throughout… Franklin County is another great place that’s known for their moonshine, dining on the lake, enjoying a nice night out, there’s really kind of something for each pallet here.

21:22 Anna Bell: Taylor, we’re touching on some of the things I think you’re really known for, those collections of real craft brew and wineries and distilleries. Can we touch on that for just a minute too? I think you’ve got a trail, right, just for that?

21:36 Taylor Spellman: Yep, the Virginia’ Blue Ridge Tears Trail. So VBR Tears Trail encompasses nearly 30 craft beverage producers, and it’s a self-guided trail, you can find it on the website, and we’ve got a passport, that’s for fun. It’s free, you can download it so that it helps you kinda get discounts and kind of incentives on the trail when you’re traveling, but craft beer, wine certainly are in Virginia, so you’re gonna get some great wine as well as meaderies and distilleries. We have a couple of spots here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, specifically in Franklin County that was very much recognized as the moonshine capital of the world during the prohibition.

22:16 Anna Bell: Wow. Okay, moonshine. Now I really haven’t had too much moonshine, so that would be really exciting to give that a try.

22:22 Taylor Spellman: You know, there’s been a lot of great work to be done with the cocktails that they make and the different flavors that complement the varieties…

Anna Bell: It’s an art, isn’t it? Yeah.

Taylor Spellman: Yeah, but we’ve got some really talented craft moonshine artisans here that make just some great stuff, so Twin Creeks Distillery in Rocky Mount is a must try. Franklin County Distilleries is another great spot, so yeah check the VBR Tears Trail and spread out a couple of, couple of days of experiencing those flavors.

22:53 Anna Bell: Absolutely, we’ve gotta add that to the list too. Well, Taylor, as we can’t talk about coming to visit you without mentioning music. Now, I’ve heard that some of our listeners, if they’re particularly interested in the origins of bluegrass and folk music, we have to come and give you a visit, right?

23:15 Taylor Spellman: That’s right. There’s such thing as the Crooked Road Music. It’s a heritage trail. Portions of Virginia’s Blue Ridge are on that. So The Harvester is a wonderful location to hear some great music. the Blue Ridge Institute and Farm Museum is also in Franklin County and a wonderful spot. They’re recognized as a large venue on the Crooked Road Music Trail. They have exhibits and information online as well as at their location about June Carter-Cash and her family and their roots that were here in the area. So yeah, we’ve got a lot of roots and Old-Time Jam Floyd Country Store is another venue along the Crooked Road that does flat foot dancing and it’s just this vibrant, welcoming, sweet little country store, where you can really have a great time on a Friday night.

24:11 Anna Bell: I’m gonna add it to the list to then for sure. So fun. Well Taylor, as we kinda wrap things up, and now that we’re all excited to come and give you guys a visit and plan our trip, where is the best place for our listeners to go to really map out their trip?

24:27 Taylor Spellman: So definitely the website, visitVBR.com and on Instagram @visitVBR.com are the two great places. From there you’ll kinda get directed to what you’re looking for, but we hope to see you guys soon, and you gotta come to some of our moonshine and check out our Appalachian Trial hikes and our Blue Ridge Parkway.

24:46 Anna Bell: I know I do. I’ve got to load up the kids and get in the car and head your way. That’s great. Well, Taylor, thank you so much for your time and your insight and being such a wonderful guide into Roanoke, Virginia and Virginia’s Blue Ridge area. So thank you.

Taylor Spellman: Thank you, Anna.

Anna Bell: We enjoyed it. Well, alright, guys. We hope you enjoyed this episode of Main and Mulberry. We had so much fun. I can’t wait to see you next time. And until next time, I’m Anna Bell.

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