April 17 was a beautiful weekend, not only for the runners in the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon or the music lovers at the Freedom First Down by Downtown Music Festival, but for the Roanoke region as a whole.
The Roanoke Regional Partnership started the race in 2010 as a “bucket list” event that attracts tourists but more importantly enhances the region’s national image. Our community shined this year as 2,800 runners from 40 states and five countries toed the start line for the first time since the pandemic.
“You are lucky to have a beautiful and friendly city to call home. My new favorite tree is the red bud, and your early American architecture and sole proprietor businesses were very cultural compared to the Targets, Applebees and Walmarts that I am stuck with in Colorado,” said Eric, a runner from Fort Collins. “The people cheering from porches and homemade aide stations were very endearing. What a fabulous city filled with warm and lively personalities. I will absolutely be back.”
Roanoke Outside staff worked tirelessly with the Virginia Department of Health, Governor Northam’s office and multiple Roanoke City departments to create endurance sport guidelines that will be used for future events throughout the state.
“We are proud to have pulled off the first big event in the Roanoke Region since the pandemic. We wanted to make sure we set the gold standard for how in-person events can be done in a low-risk way so we can finally start economic recovery as a community. We had to reinvent the wheel in a lot of ways, but it was worth the extra work to show others the way forward,” said Julia Boas, events director at the Roanoke Outside Foundation.
Businesses in downtown Roanoke, and throughout the metro-area, noticed the surge of restaurant goers and shoppers throughout the weekend. Hotels also saw their first big uptick since the pandemic, with many hotels showing as sold out on their websites.
“It was great to see the Blue Ridge Marathon and Down by Downtown return to Downtown Roanoke for 2021,” said Tina Workman, president and CEO of Downtown Roanoke, Inc. “The influx of visitors to our farmers market and our locally-owned businesses provided much needed foot traffic and gave us the opportunity to show off our amazing city after a challenging year.”
The Blue Ridge Marathon is but one example of leveraging the outdoors to attract people and economic benefit. The Roanoke Regional Partnership created the nonprofit Roanoke Outside Foundation to better connect our economy to the outdoors, create brand building events such as the Blue Ridge Marathon, Down by Downtown, and GO Fest, and improve outdoor infrastructure.
The Blue Ridge Marathon is more than a foot race. And our mountains, rivers and lakes are more than wall paper. They are part of the Roanoke Regional Partnership’s modern economic development strategy.
A full economic impact report of the 2021 Blue Ridge Marathon will be released in the coming weeks.