‘Horn in the West,’ Hickory Ridge make positive economic impact on town, county

By Michelle Ligon (Special to The Mountain Times)

Article Published: May. 14 | Modified: May. 14
‘Horn in the West,’ Hickory Ridge make positive economic impact on town, county

‘Horn in the West’ returns to the Daniel Boone Amphitheater June 27 to Aug. 16.

Photo by Wendy Fletcher

This is the second in a series of articles detailing the history and service of the Southern Appalachian Historical Association, producers of the celebrated outdoor drama, ‘Horn in the West,’ returning to the Daniel Boone Amphitheater June 27 to Aug. 16.

Boone’s mayor pro-tem, Rennie Brantz, announced in a special feature to The Mountain Times earlier this month that Hickory Ridge Living History Museum has opened for the 2014 season.

The nonprofit Southern Appalachian Historical Association (SAHA) operates the museum on Saturday mornings, May through October. Later this season, the museum will also be open 5:30 to 8 p.m. on evenings before “Horn in the West” (June 27 to Aug. 16), now entering its 63rd season.

The only history museum in Boone, Hickory Ridge opened on Saturday, May 3, as re-enactors dressed in period attire cooked an authentic meal over the fire pit and interpreted the lives of men and women of the 18th century. These volunteers entertained visitors with stories about the Tatum and Coffey family artifacts and gave guests a peek inside seven, authentic log structures.

Meanwhile, backstage demolition continues on some of the 60-year-old structures of “Horn in the West.” Concerned now with reconstruction of stage walls, a scene shop and backstage decking, SAHA has watched costs mount beyond what was projected. Still, the organization believes it is making progress and is grateful for community support.

“We’re making progress and have a lot more work planned between now and when the cast and crew arrive in June to start rehearsals,” SAHA board chairman Al Ernest said, adding that New River Light & Power has donated new poles to install along the stage wall and boardwalk.

In June, crew members of “Horn in the West” will arrive to set up the stage for the production. One week later, the cast of actors will arrive to begin two weeks of intense rehearsals held in the outdoor surroundings of Daniel Boone Park and Amphitheater.

“SAHA’s mission is to celebrate and preserve the diverse cultural heritage of the Blue Ridge Mountain region,” Ernest said. “Our focus is on Daniel Boone and the fight for American Independence, a story we tell through historical education and cultural entertainment.”

And the economic impact of Horn in the West is no small benefit to community fiscal health, according to the Boone Tourism Development Authority.

“We are truly grateful that Horn in the West, one of the first outdoor dramas in the nation, continues to make its home right here in Boone,” Wright Tilley, director of the Boone TDA, said in a statement Tuesday. “Residents of the High Country are fortunate to be stewards of one of three American legacy outdoor dramas, the other two being ‘The Lost Colony’ and ‘Unto These Hills.’”

Recent statistics reveal how, even during its short season, Horn in the West creates a positive impact to the local economy.

According to 2012 visitor data published by the N.C. Division of Tourism, Sports and Film Development, and a 2013 survey of “Horn in the West” patrons conducted by the Institute of Outdoor Theatre, the show drew 7,826 patrons and had an economic impact of more than $2 million. The majority of that revenue was created by overnight visitors.

An impressive 90 percent of the 2013 audience said they lived outside the Boone area. And 15 percent of those audience members said they were day-trippers, leaving about 75 percent as overnight visitors. The average length of stay for the N.C. mountain region was 2.8 nights, the average party size was two people, and the average per-party total spending for overnight visitors was $664.

Almost 67 percent of survey respondents indicated they planned ahead, purchasing their tickets a week or more in advance. This hints at the likelihood that these were overnight rather than daytrip visitors. That they purchased in advance also demonstrates that travelers to the area enjoy making Hickory Ridge Museum and “Horn in the West” a part of their family’s evening plans while vacationing here.

Thanks to Boone’s renowned outdoor drama and open-air museum, residents and visitors in the High Country find two memorable, family-oriented, evening activities and attractions, which are authentic, as well as entertaining.

In 2013, “Horn in the West” and Hickory Ridge Museum brought the local community an estimated $2.1 million, spent directly on lodging, dining, attractions, shopping, gasoline and more. The number may seem incredible, but the rest of the facts will help put it in perspective: In 2012, total tourism revenue for Watauga County through direct visitor spending over the entire year reached nearly $211 million.

Southern Appalachian Historical Association is the producer of Hickory Ridge Living History Museum, “Horn in the West,” children’s theater production and late-night productions during the summer season, and the annual Boone Heritage Festival on the second Saturday each October.

The Institute of Outdoor Theatre, located at East Carolina University, currently represents 104 outdoor theatres around the world.

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