ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County will soon become the first county in North Carolina to offer visitors a sampling of local attractions available 24/7 on touchscreen kiosks, according to Richmond County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Kelly Pruett.
The kiosks will be positioned all over the county at hotels and different attractions as well as a portable unit Pruett will take to events so people can utilize it.
The first phase will be 18 kiosks put in the Holiday Inn Express, Quality Inn and Suites, America’s Best Value Inn, Comfort Suites and Days Inn, as well as one in the visitors’ center at the intersection of U.S. 1 and U.S. 74, the Hamlet depot, Rankin Museum, Discovery Place Kids, the Rockingham Dragway, the campus of Richmond Community College, David’s Produce, the Berry Patch and Triple L Farms in Ellerbe and Sycamore RV Campground in the Derby community.
“Ultimately we’ll be adding Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail, DeWitt’s Outdoor, Little River Winery, Ellerbe Springs Inn and Campground, Rockingham City Hall and Richmond County offices,” said Pruett. “We’ll do those and then the next year we’ll add the other ones based off of success. We’ll know exactly what kind of market in the areas and where we need to expand.”
In addition to the kiosks, the current visitors’ center will also become a Richmond County Museum showing artifacts from the county’s history.
“It will include everything from the railroad to the depot to sports figures to congressmen to mill history,” said Pruett. “That’s our goal is to have it here.”
She said the target date for the museum is tentatively set for the first of October, and special cabinets that will hold brochures and reading material are currently being made by Taylor Cabinet Co. out of Rockingham. They should be done in eight to 10 weeks and will be made from refuge wood from an old mill in Rockingham.
“Basically my concept was to make it belong to the people, the Richmond County Museum designed and developed by the people, ” said Pruett. “I reached out to the public in general so if you have memorabilia, bring it. The concept is to pull from anyone in the community that would like to donate. We’re also working with the Richmond County Historical Society and working with Facebook pages like ‘I grew up in Rockingham and Ellerbe’ and getting stuff from them.”
Artifacts are currently being stored at the visitors’ center and Pruett said she’s cataloging each piece as it comes in.
“We already have some things ready to go ahead and get framed. We’re adding a little bit every day,” she said.
To display the memorabilia, cases are being brought in, with five of them arriving Thursday and four more coming at a later date.
To help tourists find local attractions, a new wayfinding system is also in the works. The signs, much like those already installed in Hamlet, will point those interested in the right direction of places and attractions such as Discovery Place Kids, Cole Auditorium and downtown shopping.
On top of the those big plans, Pruett said the county’s website has also been upgraded to be more user-friendly. The new site, which will be available at visitrichmondcounty.com, is ready to launch, but Pruett is waiting on the code from Network Solutions in order to start it up.
“The website will direct users to the sites of the attractions on there,” she said. “It’s very user-friendly.”
The site will include history of heritage of the county as well as news and events, lodging, dining and shopping and area attractions, among other things.
Pruett has also placed Rockingham and Hamlet in the official 2015 North Carolina Travel Guide. It’s the first time anything in the county has made it in, and the guide listing includes the Hamlet Depot and Museums and the National Railroad Museum and Hall of Fame for Hamlet and DPK as well as six hotels or motels for Rockingham. Pruett hopes to add more in the future.
Next year, she said, she applied for the Main Street grant program, but is waiting on the City Planner John Massey to finalize what it will look like.
“It’s a downtown revitalization program with the Cole Foundation,” said Pruett. “Merchants who need help with signage or their facades, they can help. The grants usually run $200,000-plus.”
Pruett said the endgame is to upgrade downtown Rockingham and attract more retail stores and restaurants to the city’s core.
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.