Barn Quilts of Garrett County: A Big Boom for Agri-Tourism
Piecing Together Tourism, Agriculture, Heritage and the Arts
by Connie Yingling, Maryland Office of Tourism
First Barn Quilt Trail Established in 2001
Curious about a phenomenon that has since swept through 30 states and two Canadian provinces, in 2006 Karen Reckner, an Oakland, Md. resident, drove to Ohio and found Garrett County’s next big “agri-tourism” ticket: barn quilts.
Barn quilts, created by painting a quilt block pattern on plywood then hung on the sides of barns, started in Adams County, Ohio when Donna Sue Groves painted a quilt block on the exterior of an old tobacco barn. It blossomed into a trail of 20 barns and spread to neighboring counties.
And now, the phenomenon has spread to Western Maryland. On August 7, 2011, Marylanders can attend the 2nd annual Barn Quilt festival in the town of McHenry in Garrett County.
A Maryland Tradition Begins
After reading about this “clothesline of quilts”, and seeing the phenomenon for herself, Reckner saw a perfect fit for Garrett County. She teamed up with a group of women, Beverley Williams, Joyce Bishoff, and Cheryl DeBerry, to get the project started.
“When the original founders sat down, we discussed all the different aspects of community that this [project] could represent,” recalls Reckner.
From that discussion, members of the farming, tourism, arts, education and heritage communities were invited to a meeting with Donna Sue Groves.
Non-Profit Association Created
Following the successful April 2008 meeting with Groves, a non-profit, the Barn Quilt Association of Garrett County was formed.
“Our association is responsible for garnering corporate and private sponsorships, evaluating barns for suitability, block design and approval process, installation, additional fund-raising efforts, and marketing and promotion of all of the above,” said Beverley Williams, who serves as president to the barn quilt board. Merchandising and an annual festival are part of their efforts.
The association prints a trail map, hosts a website, and prints a coloring book for youngsters, incorporating the personal stories behind the barn quilt trail.
“We tell why a particular quilt design was selected, what the connection is to the farming family or the sponsor of a block, and the history of the barns themselves – some of which are centuries old,” Reckner said.
Various Communities See Benefits of Quilt Barn Trail
Cheryl DeBerry, Garrett County’s Agriculture Marketing Specialist, said the county has been “overwhelmed with positive input from the farming community.”
“Agri-tourism businesses receive buyers for their products and in turn the public learns more about this industry that is often thought of as a lifestyle rather than a business,” DeBerry said.
A 2008 impact study done by the Ohio Arts Council reports that one of the many benefits of the program is an “increase in community pride.” This trait is also evident in Garrett County, as barn owners across the county have improved their properties by painting weather-worn barns, planting ornamental landscaping and clearing work areas.
“While it may be too early yet to attribute any increase in tourism to the quilt trail, we do have businesses (a corn maze and horse-drawn carriage and sleigh rides) that are reporting increased traffic,” Joyce Bishoff, vice president of the Barn Quilt Association of Garrett County, said.
A regional motorcoach company, Mountaineer Country Tours, has begun to offer a bus tour featuring the barn quilt trail in the county.
Currently there are 13 barns featured in the trail. The 14th barn will be unveiled at this year’s festival. This year, attendees will find a family heirloom quilt show, live auction, demonstrations and story-telling on the agenda. Festival goers can also purchase quilt and barn arts and crafts from the local artisans.
Last year’s festival, the first annual Quilt Barn festival, was awarded the “Best New/Improved Product or Event” by the Maryland Tourism Council. The women of the barn quilt board envision the trail growing to 100 barns, and plan to involve schools in the creation of more blocks. The owners of the Lakeside Creamery, a local ice cream parlor near Deep Creek Lake, have donated studio space so that students can help the barn quilt trail grow.
Additionally, in the near future, visitors can use their cell phones to hear the stories of each barn, farm and quilt block on the trail.
“We are proud to have brought this project to Garrett County and made the state of Maryland part of this nationwide effort,” Reckner said.