GREENVILLE – Matthew Staugler has only been on the job for about six months, but he already has a pride in the county he’s made his home.
Staugler is the executive director of the Darke County Visitors Bureau (DCVB), and its newly released 2015 annual report shows a lot to be proud of.
A highlight of the year was Darke County being recognized in five categories for the 2015 “Best of Ohio” Awards from Ohio Magazine, taking awards showing Darke County as a place for everything to find some of the best of food, shopping and down-home family fun.
Main Street Greenville’s Hometown Holiday Horse Parade was named a “best annual parade.” Garst Museum got a “best historical museum” nod. Sadie Grace was recognized as a “best independent boutique.” Michael Anthony’s at the Inn earned a “best fine dining” award. And, of course, The Great Darke County Fair took a “best county fair” award.
The Darke County Visitors Bureau supported local events with its Tourism Grant Program, awarding grants with primary consideration for those events that would attract overnight visitors, bring in visitors from more than 50 miles away, and feature new things to watch, do or learn.
In 2015, the grant program supported such events as the Tour de Donut, which is Ohio’s largest one-day bicycling event and brings in about 2,000 bicyclists for Ohio’s sweetest ride. It’s a race with a twist (or a hole or a sprinkle or a creamy filling), with cyclists getting doughnut stops and race-time credit for stuffing their faces.
The grant program also helped fund the YOLO: Festival of Races, featuring a 5K, 15K and half marathon runs, as well as a kids’ fun run.
Funding also was provided for the Illumination Festival: Light in the Darke, which brought a day of Christian music and activities to the fairgrounds in September.
The DCVB promoted Darke County events, sites and activities largely through distribution of the 2014-15 Visitors Guide, numbering about 40,000 copies over two years. The new 2016-17 Darke County Visitors Guide has just been released and is available at the Visitors Bureau office downtown, at local tourism sites, and at various travel and tourist stops throughout western Ohio.
“We’ve had a great response already,” Staugler said of the new guide. “A lot of people have been stopping by the office to pick up copies.”
The DCVB website, at www.visitdarkecounty.org, features a calendar of events and customizable itineraries for visitors to the area. The bureau continues outreach through social media and an e-newsletter, and Staugler said he hopes to expand the DCVB’s digital outreach in 2016.
The visitors bureau reported the following in 2015: 2,000 online guide and brochure requests; 2,818 e-newsletter recipients; 4,961 Facebook “Likes”; 623 Twitter followers; and 464 Instagram followers.
The bureau also has been getting the word out about Darke County as a destination at trade shows and statewide travel publications.
This year will also see Darke County featured in the spring issue of AAA Magazine, Staugler said, in a feature focusing on national heritage sites. Garst Museum will be one of the sites highlighted in the article.
The DCVB is funded largely by visiting taxpayers, with more than half of its income from the county bed tax paid by visitors lodging in the county. A portion also comes from excise taxes on lodging from Versailles and Greenville, and about 18 percent came from advertising revenue from ads placed in the visitors guide.
It has been a learning experience for Staugler, as he continues to familiarize himself with the county and all it has to offer.
“When I started,” he said, “my initial goal was to meet people – meet the partners, meet the people who run our attractions, meet the community.”
He also has found some nice surprises along the way.
“When I started I had no idea what Bear’s Mill was,” Staugler said. “That’s been a really pleasant surprise for me. It’s a neat place to visit, and it’s become one of my favorite places to go.”
Darke County’s rich history has been a source of enjoyment for him as well.
“As someone who has a background in history, Garst Museum is definitely a favorite,” he said. “All of our attractions in Darke County have blown me away. I’m constantly floored by the quality of the attractions.”