Photo courtesy Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park
When a rural county has the world’s largest waterfowl park as an attraction and a prime location on Interstate 95, it can draw local meetings without even trying. But Halifax County, N.C., isn’t simply waiting for business to travel its way. After a new hotel opened last year, it launched a new Web site with information for meeting planners.
“Since our new 147-room Hilton Garden Inn has meeting space for 150 people, and our newly rebuilt 126-room Hampton Inn can hold 80 people for meetings, we are now a multiday meeting destination,” said Lori Medlin, president and CEO of the Halifax County CVB. Both properties are in Roanoke Rapids, the county’s largest city, with a population of 16,000.
The Web site covers the county’s 1,200 hotel rooms and facilities like the Centre in Weldon, which has a 1,500-seat auditorium.
“Since Halifax County is on the Virginia border halfway between Raleigh [N.C.] and Richmond [Va.], we are marketing to associations, corporate groups and sporting groups from both states,” said Medlin.
The area’s greatest draw has long been the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck, home to 1,500 rare and endangered waterfowl and affiliated with the North Carolina Zoo.
“Groups come from around the world to see the birds and meet in the Golden Leaf Room, which can hold 100 for a meeting or 200 for a reception,” said Medlin. “As part of a daylong retreat, many groups visit the park’s six aviaries, listen to nature lectures or use the site for team-building programs.”
In the past year, Sylvan has hosted the 100-member Carolina/Virginia Pheasant Waterfowl Society and the International Wild Waterfowl Association (IWWA), to name a few.
“Their [IWWA’s] 90 members, who were from Europe and throughout the United States, held a banquet and meeting and viewed the bird collections,” said the park’s Brent Lubbock. “We are also a relaxing backdrop for business retreats, which is why the North Carolina State Lawyers Association is bringing 80 members here this month.”
Halifax County’s history also makes for interesting retreat locations, especially at the Halifax State Historic Site.
“Many people don’t know that North Carolina was the first colony to declare independence from England, and it was done in April 1776 in the town of Historic Halifax,” said Medlin. “The town is now a historic site, and its Tap Room can host 25-person board meetings that can include a ‘pig picking,’ or pig roast; a guided tour; and living-history demonstrations.”
The newest restored venue in the county is the Riverside Mill, a former cotton mill on the Roanoke River in Weldon.
Entertainment and meeting space can also be found at two local theaters: the Lakeland Cultural Arts Center, and the new 1,444-seat Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
As it develops its meeting business, Halifax County is also becoming a destination for sport competitions.
“We have hosted the 1,000-member Cycle North Carolina twice, and this spring, we held the first annual Roanoke Canal Half-Marathon and 8K race for some 250 people, who ran the 7.5-mile nature trail that follows the old canal bed,” said Medlin. “This month, we will host the third-annual Tri Roanoke Valley Sprint Triathlon at the T.J. Davis Recreation Center.”