Hazzard Nation descends on Page County

Page News and Courier

LURAY ― Page County was transformed into Hazzard Nation this past weekend, as “Cooter” made his “last stand” and more than 20,000 visitors took in the excitement off Route 211 to catch festivities ranging from the clatter of Civil War re-enactments, airborne BMX bikes and WWE wrestlers, roaring car stunts, masked superheroes and monster trucks.

The two-day event served as the final installment in more than a decade-long series of events in celebrates of the 1980s television show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Between Saturday and Sunday, the final “DukesFest” installment saw 30,000 people walk through admissions lines, according to event organizers, though that number represents guests who attended both days.

In total, said organizer Alma Viator, between 20,000 and 23,000 people from at least 43 states and 11 countries attended “Cooter's Last Stand,” nearly doubling Page's population for two days.

“We were very surprised by the turnout,” said Viator, who is married to Ben Jones who portrayed “Cooter” in the hit series. “It's the best one we've ever had ― except for the rain.”

Heavy rain on Friday evening caused a few hiccups for the event, though organizers were prepared with backup plans, said Viator. After some flooding in nearby fields that were designated as parking areas, volunteers, staff and some attendees parked at local schools and at the Page Valley Fairgrounds in Luray, and were shuttled to the event site off Route 211, just west of Luray.

Traffic remained heavy on Route 211 and some surrounding roads off and on throughout the day, with the heaviest congestion occurring a few hours before and after 9 a.m., when gates opened. Law enforcement officers helped direct traffic along the divided highway, with traffic funneling to a single lane on each side for safety.

The Page County Sheriff's Office reported no major incidents during the event. Dozens of deputies, police officers and Page County EMS officials were on tap both days, with emergency stations setup throughout the area.

“Cooter's Last Stand” potentially infused hundreds of thousands of dollars into Page County's economy. According to estimates by the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce, at least 90 percent of the county's lodging ― including campsites, hotels, motels and cabins or other rentals ― were booked over the course of the weekend. Additional sites, such as the Page Valley Fairgrounds, opened its gates to accommodate campers.

The local chamber estimates that Page County ― Virginia's “Cabin Capital” ― includes between 400 and 450 cabins.

Many local shops and eateries prepared for a push in sales, though business in Downtown Luray remained relatively normal besides several sitings of Hazzard cast members, including Catherine Bach who portrayed “Daisy,” who stopped by Gathering Grounds, and Don Pedro Colley, who portrayed “Sheriff Little,” who reportedly stopped by Uncle Bucks.

Page Valley Tobacco in the Food Lion shopping center saw a slight push in foot traffic, said owner Cyndi Greer, who had staff on standby and a small increase in inventory ready to go in preparation of the event.

A few doors down at Luray's ABC store, business was similar, said store manager Billy Foltz, although the store drew small crowds throughout Friday evening, when Tim Smith from the Discovery Channel's docudrama “Moonshiners” stopped by from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to offer tastings and sign autographs. Foltz helped coordinate Smith's visit to the shop to hit on the Friday night before Hazzard festivities officially kicked off on Saturday.

The ABC store also had additional staff on hand and a extra inventory in case event-goers stopped by after “Cooter's Last Stand.” Alcohol was not permitted at the two-day event.

“If it would occur again, we would probably prepare the same way,” said Foltz. “You never know what's going to happen.”

Although business may not have been bolstered to the level some were anticipating, Greer said she looks for the highly attended event to have a trickle-down effect in Page County.

“Later on down the road, I think we will benefit from tourism,” said Greer. “The attention that this event brought to the area ― I think a lot of people will return.”

President of the local chamber Gina Hilliard echoed that line of thinking. With a visitor's booth set up both days at the event, chamber staff handed out 250 visitor's guides and had at least twice that number stop by at the booth for information, said Hilliard.

“I definitely see a percentage of those folks coming back in the future,” Hilliard said, adding that many told chamber staff members that they planned to return in the fall. “Events like this give us great marketing for the towns and the county and economic benefits for our tourism industry. It's an awesome opportunity that Page County had to host this in our backyard.”

A few miles up the road from Cooter's on the Massanutten Mountain, Dan's Steakhouse brought in record numbers on Saturday and Sunday. A free shuttle between the restaurant and the event helped bring in 1,200 customers in two days, said owner Christi Baker.

With a staff of 25 ― including five former employees who returned to lend a hand ― each day, the steakhouse welcomed guests from at least 28 states and six countries, according to a poster that restaurant staff asked patrons to sign.

“It was the busiest we have been in years, and such a fun time for the staff,” said Baker. “You couldn't ask for two nicer people than Ben and Alma, and we love having them here.”

Since “Cooters in the Valley” made the move last fall from Sperryville to Page County, said Baker, the local steakhouse has seen an increase in business, thanks to the attraction drawing tourists further west on Route 211.

“I can't express how much fun we have had with the people coming in from Cooter's,” Baker said, noting that Friday's diners included Smith and Hazzard Nation's John Schneider.

On Saturday, one diner from Maine showed up on the shuttle without a shoe after her sandal broke. Baker retrieved an extra pair from her car to lend the woman so that she could return to the festivities.

It's that spirit of generosity, said Viator, that has not has not only fueled Duke fandom for nearly four decades, but motivated “Cooter's in the Valley” to put down roots in Page.

“This was a community-supported effort, and it brought us even closer to all of Page County's resources and our neighbors,” Viator said. “Everyone at the event felt so welcomed ― not just by us but by the community.”

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