Home Local News Richmond County Tourism Board approves $300k in grants including for Bigfoot/UFO conference,...

Richmond County Tourism Board approves $300k in grants including for Bigfoot/UFO conference, DPK renovations

Kim Ristau, one of the organizers of EncounterQuest, explains the event to the Richmond County Tourism Board. Photo by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond County Tourism Development Authority Board approved several grant applications on Tuesday, including one for an event highlighting high strangeness.

EncounterQuest, a conference for Bigfoot and UFO enthusiasts, will receive a $5,000 reimbursement.

Kim Ristau, one the organizers, said they chose Richmond County because of its central location and proximity to the Uwharrie National Forest, where there have been multiple reported sightings.

Montgomery County boasts at least 15 reported experiences, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.

The team from the Animal Planet reality show “Finding Bigfoot” shot an episode in Montgomery County, following up on a video by researcher Michael Greene.

There is also a report of a track being found and knocks being heard off of Grassy Island Road near Ellerbe.

Click here to read a previous RO story on Bigfoot.

“There is a huge amount of people interested in bigfoot, aliens and cryptids,” Ristau said.

Cryptids are animals, like the sasquatch, that have reportedly been seen but are unknown to mainstream science. The study of those creatures is called cryptozoology.

The WNC Bigfoot Festival in Marion attracted more than 35,000 people, according to Ristau. “And that’s just a Bigfoot event … we’re all encompassing.”

The inaugural event, scheduled for April 1 at Cole Auditorium, is expected to draw a crowd of around 1,500 from the Carolinas and across the southeast. There will also be two workshops the previous night.

The main auditorium at the Cole seats nearly 1,000.

One of the speakers for EncounterQuest is Ron Morehead, of the men who captured the infamous “Sierra Sounds” — believed to Sasquatch vocalizations — in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the early 1970s. He has also authored the books “Voices in the Wilderness” and “The Quantum Bigfoot.”

“We want Richmond County to be the home of this event,” Ristau said, adding that there are plans to extend it to two full days and to make it “bigger and better every year.”

The Band of Oz closes out the 2022 season of Plaza Jam on Oct. 6. Photos by William R. Toler – Richmond Observer

The City of Rockingham was granted $25,000 for the Plaza Jam series, now entering its 20th year. The summer concert series has run continuously, except for 2020 when government response to the COVID pandemic placed a limit on gatherings.

Plaza Jam is also sponsored by several community businesses: Dieffenbach G.M. Superstore, Planet Fitness, Tina Miller-State Farm and TRG Sign Company.

In addition to county residents, organizers say the series also draws concertgoers from surrounding counties and neighboring South Carolina. Those visitors, organizers say, also eat at local restaurants and sometimes stay overnight.

In addition to paying for the bands and their expenses, the city also budgets money for promotion, which includes advertising and T-shirts.


The lineup for this year is:
May 4 – Gary Lowder and Smokin’ Hot
June 1 – Chocolate Chip & Company
July 6 – The Entertainers
Aug. 3 – North Tower Band
Sept. 7– The Tams
Oct. 5 – Band of Oz

The board also approved a $20,000 grant for the returning SpringFest, scheduled for April 22.

The event — organized by the city of Rockingham, Richmond County Chamber of Commerce and Richmond County Tourism — will feature live music from Richmond County natives Erik Hawks and Bucky Covington, a barbecue cook-off, a Kids Zone, a beer garden and multiple food and other vendors.

Click here to read about Covington and more details about SpringFest.

Chamber President Kristi King said that, as of Tuesday, only one team has signed up for the cook-off, sponsored by Smithfield Foods.

The contest will award $1,000 to the first-place winner, $500 for second place and $300 for the winner of People’s Choice. The cost is $200 per team.

Costs for vendors are $100 for merchandise, $150 for food and $50 for nonprofit organizations.

Those interested in being a vendor or having a cook team should contact the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce at 910-895-9058 or email info@richmondcountychamber.com.

RO file photo

The city also requested $250,000, to be paid out over four years, for its share to help with the costs of recent $2.3 million renovations to Discovery Place Kids, which celebrates its 10th year this month.

Click here to read about the upgrades.

“We know the impact Discovery Place Kids (has on tourism),” said Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump, adding that the museum “continually brings folks in here on an annual basis in high numbers.”

Records show DPK has 40,000 visitors annually.

The museum has also requested $250,000 from the county and, according to Gene McLaurin, the Cole Foundation and Community Foundation of Richmond County have each approved $900,000 for the project.

Crump said the city appropriates $50,000 each year from its General Fund for the museum, in addition to paying for utilities and insurance on the building, and repairs.

That’s why, Crump said, the city wanted to use its portion of tourism funds for the project. He added that he had no problem with the county doing the same.

Funds distributed by the Tourism Board come from the local occupancy tax. All lodging establishments are currently in the city of Rockingham, with the exception of Ellerbe Springs Inn.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.