New life sprouted this weekend at the Culpeper Train Depot, where the town and county’s Visitor Center reopened after eight months of COVID-19-imposed dormancy.
To avoid spreading the highly contagious virus, the Visitor Center and the Museum of Culpeper History, which shares the historic depot, were closed to the public on March 13.
“I’m so glad to be back at work, it’s been a long eight months,” Visitor Center Assistant Karen Quaintance said Friday, her first day back greeting people. “I kept calling and calling, asking when we would be opening up again.”
With holiday decorations adding a festive feeling to downtown—including lights and ornaments that adorn the giant pine tree in the pocket park beside the depot—visitors both local and from afar were lured to Culpeper in Friday’s sunshine and mild temperatures.
“We’ve had maybe 20 or 23 stop by here today,” said Quaintance, noting that visitors reported coming from California, Utah, Alabama and Virginia.
Castleton resident Chris McCoy walked in then, saying he was a 1994 Culpeper County High School graduate who wanted to bring his family to town to show them around his old stomping grounds.
“It’s been great to see how much it’s grown here,” McCoy said. He described visiting his old school and showing his wife and children, ages 6, 11 and 13, where he used to live.
McCoy, a logger currently unemployed due to the virus, compared the cost of building a house in Rappahannock County with Culpeper, and said he is considering moving back to the area because it’s so much more cost-effective.
“This would be a nice place for my kids to grow up,” he said. “They like the town life, a faster pace.”
“We’re very happy with the number of people we’ve had come in today,” Kristi Mashon, the Visitor Center supervisor, said Friday. “Most said they were shopping or dining downtown, or picking up items, and decided to stop in.”
Mashon said the center’s staff expects good traffic next weekend, with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday likely to draw people downtown.
The Visitor Center is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will continue that temporary schedule until Jan. 3, 2021.
After that, the staff will reassess.
“We are limiting staff at the center for health and safety reasons,” town Director of Economic Development and Tourism Paige Read told the Star-Exponent. “We have added health security measures and are restricting the center to five visitors at a time, limiting visits to 15-minute intervals.”
The Culpeper Museum of History remains closed. “We don’t yet have a reopening date, but we know we are closed for the remainder of 2020,” Museum Director Morgan Pierce emailed Friday.
“With the pandemic, and the recent spike in cases, it will be interesting to see how things go,” said Mashon, the center’s supervisory.
She said the center requires visitors to wear masks and maintain social distancing, and staff members issue reminders if needed. Hand sanitizer is freely available. Plexi-glass has been installed at the front desk, and all the furniture removed.
“It’s really taken a lot of work to get everything ready to reopen,” Mashon said. “And we haven’t just been sitting around. We’ve had a lot to do in the meantime.”
Mashon, Read and tourism marketing specialist Megan Gray have focused their energy on processing CARES Act loans and securing other assistance for Culpeper businesses.
“I’ve been very grateful, because I’ve learned so much through the process,” Mashon said. “It’s incredibly impressive to me to see how much blood, sweat and tears these owners and nonprofits pour into their businesses.”
She said all the work has opened her eyes to the economy here and nationwide as Americans have faced an unprecedented, invisible enemy this year.
“I’m honored to be part of something bigger, to have some small role in making a difference during this time,” she said. “I hope with all my heart they can survive.”
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