Northampton Center ‘welcomes’ all

Published 6:22 pm Saturday, May 16, 2009

PLESANT HILL — They came from all over—Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey—and even though they were just passing through, they all took a little bit of North Carolina with them.

On Thursday, representatives from tourism authorities, chambers of commerce, hotels and restaurants gathered at the North Carolina Welcome Center on I-95 in Northampton County for its annual Tourism Day event.

Travelers from all over browsed booths, snatched up pamphlets and sampled goodies from different eastern counties and communities in the state.

More than 20 vendors participated in the event, including ones from Northampton, Halifax, Johnston, Onslow counties.

The Welcome Center, opened in 1968, is located just over the state line in Northampton County and is the most visited in the state. More than 1 million travelers visit the center a year.

Dick Collier with the Northampton County Tourism Development Authority and Betty Lou Barnes with the Northampton County Chamber of Commerce offered visitors in-shell peanuts and information about the county.

“It’s good conversation,” said Collier about chatting with the visitors. “The exposure has been great here and it tells them what Northampton County has to offer.”

The Chamber of Commerce has been involved with the event for the past five years.

Collier said the Tourism Development Authority it just getting started in its activities and is working to open up different areas of interest within the county.

Newly crowned North Carolina Watermelon Queen Leslie Revelle of Murfreesboro was on hand representing the North Carolina Watermelon Association.

Travelers stopped by the booth to snap a photo of Revelle, pick up a watermelon recipe book and a complimentary slice of the fruit.

“It’s a little taste of summer before it gets here,” said Susan Mills, the promotion coordinator with NC Watermelon Association.

Some visitors got a “close” encounter with one of North Carolina’s native species.

Carla Taylor, an educator with Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck, incited both fear and curiosity in the crowd as she made her way around with a non-venomous cornsnake draped around her shoulders.

“It gives us a chance to get out and interact with the public,” said Taylor about Tourism Day.

Taylor said the goal of the park is promote education and conservation.

“The real gem is that we can get people to cross those (comfort) lines,” she said, referring to her scaly constrictor partner. “That’s real exciting.”

For most of the travelers the event was a nice surprise, as most had just stopped in to utilize the center’s facilities.

Betty Penland of Bowie, MD along with her son, Larry, and family friend, Robin Hogle of Annapolis, MD were on their way to Florida when they decided to stop for a spell.

“It’s very nice,” said Penland about Tourism Day. “I would like to spend more time in North Carolina, go to the beach.”

Melvin and Rita Mitchell of Clinton, MD said they would like to take their visit a step further and make it permanent by retiring to the Raleigh area.

The Mitchells, along with their two children, were traveling to Raleigh for a funeral when they stopped at the Welcome Center.

The two called Tourism Day “wonderful” and took a particular interest in a local hotel they might visit for a getaway.

The Welcome Center’s Manager Edith Jenkins said her staff on a daily basis provides many tourists with knowledge of directions, local attractions and even makes reservations for them at hotels.

“We love it, to be able to enrich so many people and help give them the information they need,” she said about Tourism Day. “It’s a good day.”