WAYNESBORO, VA– When travelers step into the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center (TIC) on Afton Mountain, they often gasp. What they thought would be a quick restroom break becomes an awesome glimpse into the topography of the region, thanks to the large-scale replica of the Shenandoah Valley that occupies the majority of the room.
The three-dimensional model shows the entire Shenandoah Valley at a scale of one inch to one mile, capturing the dips and rises of the Blue Ridge Mountains and giving visitors a birds-eye view of the landscape they usually see only from their car window. Markings like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive, Appalachian Trail, interstates and major cities help orient the traveler. Many visitors use the display to map the next leg of their journey.
Although the history of the map generates debate, its age is roughly 40 years old. It was created by Exhibigraphics out of Utah, which no longer exists. Originally, it included push buttons and lights that would illuminate certain spots on the map. No longer electrified, it now serves simply as a topographical display with labels.
The model was housed at the TIC when it occupied the old Howard Johnson’s building off Rt. 250, then was moved in 2010 when the TIC changed locations to the top of the hill by the Inn at Afton. The cumbersome 16 x 7-foot display had to be eased through the window by a half-dozen men into its current position in the middle of the room.
Protected under a heavy Plexiglass case, the model has still suffered the signs of aging. Last week the map was given a thorough cleaning and facelift. Areas where the plaster coating has crumbled were repaired; the perimeter repainted; and road signs replaced.
The delicate operation was completed by Bob Kirchman of The Kirchman Studio in Staunton. Kirchman, a model builder and architectural artist, sees the Shenandoah Valley model as completely unique. “I’ve never seen anything else like it in the valley,” he remarks. “It deserves to be updated and given a place of prominence.”
While GPS systems have, in many ways, replaced physical maps, old models like this one offer viewers a perspective that’s totally unique and pleasingly tangible. “Visitors often comment about the map,” says Greg Hitchin, Director of Economic Development and Tourism, “we anticipate that the model will be a tourist draw for years to come and this facelift will help preserve it.”
Now visitors and locals alike will have a new reason to “wow” when they walk through the TIC door.