RICHMOND, Va. Bustling textile and furniture factories that used to churn out blankets and beds have moved out of southwest Virginia, taking jobs overseas.
But that doesn't mean there's nothing left in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along with the enduring traditions of hard work and faith remains the tangible treasure of bluegrass.
"Music is the most valuable commodity that we have to sell here in these mountains," said Debbie Robinson, program coordinator for Blue Ridge Music Center, one of the many attractions included in a renewed effort to bring visitors to the heart of Appalachia.
A new driving-tour map developed by National Geographic and the Appalachian Regional Commission features 28 suggested routes, all reflecting the diversity of the 13-state region that stretches from southern New York to northeast Mississippi.
The routes include scenic staples like the Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina and Virginia, and lesser-known car trips through historic towns, back roads and artisan trails.
"We're actually placing much more value on our music, and it is drawing people to our area," said Robinson, who also volunteers at the Rex Theater in Galax, Va. The restored movie theater is home to a weekly show featuring mostly live local music acts playing banjo, fiddle and guitar that's broadcast on the radio and via the Internet.
National Geographic was paid $80,000 by the commission to develop the new map, which was distributed this spring to 865,000 subscribers of National Geographic Traveler. It also is available through the commission and state tourism offices.
"Appalachia in a lot of ways is one of our most important regions," said Keith Bellows, the magazine's editor. "This is kind of travel ground zero. The idea that you can drive it and see those nooks and crannies of our past, they're all there."
The commission estimates tourism as a more than $29 billion industry in the region, employing more than 600,000 people.
Economic woes have led more people to travel within the U.S. than abroad, sticking with getaways closer to home. And despite rising gas prices, Bellows believes that traveling, even by car, will not slow.
"The truth is we're all going to travel," Bellows said. "We love it. We can't help ourselves. It's something that we absolutely love to do and I suspect that no matter how expensive it gets, we're going to want to explore our own backyard."
In Virginia, drivers can take a trip on the Crooked Road, the state's heritage music trail along the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the coalfields region. The three-day, 253-mile trail features stops in historic towns like Abingdon and Clintwood, and takes visitors to the Floyd Country Store and the Rex Theater.
One of western New York's trails, called "Native Sons and Daughters," features sites from the million-year-old stones at Rock City Park in Knapp Creek and the Lucy-Desi Center in Jamestown, where comic Lucille Ball grew up.
The center features a museum and playhouse with exhibits and memorabilia, including re-creations of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo's New York City apartment. Officials even host festivals in the spring and summer featuring grape-stomping and look-a-like contests and film screenings.
"There really are a lot of wonderful things (in the area), but our household name is Lucille Ball," said Patricia Brininger, the center's associate director. "There are Lucy fans all over the world, but they don't all know that we're here."
A drive through northern Alabama takes visitors on a half-day, 22-mile birding trail of 50 roadside stops to spot eastern woodland birds and waterfowl. The map suggests the summer months as the best time to grab the binoculars to view colorful pileated and red-headed woodpeckers, and noisy great-crested flycatchers.
Pennsylvania travelers can take a tour along the "Art Thrives on Route 45" trail through the central part of the state and the "By-Way of the Arts" along Route 15. Motorists can make a pit stop at Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport and browse antique shops and farmers' markets along the rest of the trail.
A trek through central and southeast Ohio gives visitors the option of two trails, one exploring wildlife and history, the other along a tour of barns painted with quilt patterns.
"There are gems literally all across this map that are just absolutely worth the trip," said ARC co-chairman Anne Pope. "There are some real experiences there in a day's drive, even for people who think they know their own area."
National Geographic and ARC also have gone digital, with an interactive version of the map and assistance in planning drives with directions and links to tourism offices in all 13 states.
The region covers all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia.
• Routes from the guide can be downloaded for free from visitappalachia.com. Copies sent by mail are $5.95 and can be ordered from National Geographic Traveler magazine at 800-777-2800. (A copy of the issue in which the guide first appeared will be sent along with the map.)
The map covers all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia.