PARTNER ANNOUNCEMENT: Storytellers Now Journeying Throughout Region Collecting Unique Stories



Friends of Southwest Virginia has an exciting new initiative to use first-hand voices to tell the unique stories of Southwest Virginia’s people, places and adventures. The “SWVA Storytellers” consist of six writers, photographers and videographers journeying throughout the 19 county, four city footprint of Southwest Virginia discovering the region’s untold treasures. 

The storytellers will produce content packages about unique people, businesses, attractions, hidden destinations, and more throughout the region. The stories of the region will be cataloged at starting in January 2020 to promote Spring travel throughout the region, and continue throughout the year. These stories will be marketed to the world to showcase the authentic and distinctive culture of Southwest Virginia.  

The program is being launched in partnership with Virginia Tourism Corporation, the state tourism office of Virginia and the official marketers of the Virginia is for Lovers brand. The partnership with the state tourism office leverages the success of the Lovers brand, now in its 50th year of promoting the Commonwealth. 

This program will focus on key themes: outdoor/scenic, culinary (wine, beer, distilleries, food), arts (music, arts), millenial/youth, adventure and downtowns. 

We need your help identifying the hidden stories of authentic people and places. If you have an idea to pitch, send an email to and include as much information as possible! We’ll follow up if one of the Storytellers can craft a unique story around your pitch! 

You can learn more about each Storyteller below: 

Billy Bowling @iambab_xiii
Growing up in Tazewell, Virginia, Billy Bowling has experienced over three decades of growth and change in the Southwest Virginia region. As a graduate of Tazewell High School in 2000, he accepted a scholarship to Coastal Carolina University where he Studied Business Management and played Division 1 Soccer for the Chanticleers. His travels led him to Tampa, Florida for 6 years following where he worked for both ABC News and started finding his passion for photography while working as a media assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Billy returned to our area 5 years ago and began to explore some of the regions hidden corners, and forgotten places all with his camera in tow. He has since generated imagery regularly for not only Friends of SWVA, but he is employed at the state level by Virginia Tourism Corporation as well as through over 12 local and regional tourism entities within Southwest Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. His work has been featured in places such as Southern Living Magazine, REI, Cabelas, and Smoky Mountain Living, as well as having the distinct honor of having an image from his hometown grace the cover of the 2018 Virginia Tourism Travel Guide, a first for SWVA. 

Most days you can find him hiking or traveling the region generating new imagery and media, or growing his portraiture and wedding business based out of his home in Lebanon, VA with his wife Emmy and his three children, Alex, Scarlet, and Caroline. 

Blake Salyer @blakesalyer
Blake Salyer is a lifelong native of the coalfields of Southwest Virginia currently residing in Norton, VA. From his early days of childhood to now he has developed a fascination and appreciation for the mountains he calls home. Blake remained in the region to further his studies at UVA-Wise where he graduated with a Business Administration degree. He loves being outside and is taken by community and culture. He has built an e-commerce apparel brand inspired by our beautiful landscapes and the adventure lifestyle called Winze Company and is currently working on a social media and content marketing startup.  

Chad Thompson @chadeveryday
Chad Thompson is a SWVA native currently residing in Glade Spring, Virginia. Growing up in SWVA, Chad has always enjoyed hiking, biking, and photography adventures. Chad attended Virginia Intermont College where he studied film and digital photography. After college, Chad became a freelance photographer / videographer where he created work for various clients around Southwest Virginia. After years in the field, Chad started a YouTube channel where he started teaching about his profession. Today, Chad still creates content on YouTube as well as personal and freelance photography / videography.

Hunter Blevins @lost_hiker_
Hunter Blevins was born and raised in Southwest Virginia. Specifically, from the town of Marion, he has spent plenty of time exploring the region and what it has to offer. His love for the state inspired him to take up the hobby of photography which he followed to Shenandoah University. After spending some time in Winchester studying media and communication, he returned home to continue his education and spend more time in the mountains he loves.

Montana Arnold @montanashea
Montana is a wife, homeschool mom, photographer and videographer who loves to explore everything that SWVA has to offer! From hiking the best trails to checking out local festivals, there is always something amazing to do right in the backyard. Montana has been capturing the beauty of southwest Virginia for many years and she is so excited to join the Friends or SWVA to showcase that!


Nicole Childress @nicolechildress
Nicole Childress is a Southwest Virginia native and an event and portrait photographer and artist living in Bristol, VA. She teaches art and craft classes regionally, including a monthly workshop at the Saltville Public Library. Nicole has served as project chair for The Abingdon Wolf Project and been the event photographer for Plein Air and the Virginia Highlands Festival. She is currently working on her master’s degree in Art Therapy.


For more information, please contact Jenna Wagner with Friends of Southwest Virginia (276-492-2400). For more information and to stay up-to-date, subscribe to the Friends of Southwest Virginia Partner Newsletter and “Like” Friends of Southwest Virginia on Facebook.

About Southwest Virginia:
Tucked in the mountains of Southwest Virginia is a vibrant culture of music, craft and stunning natural beauty. It’s a region of spectacular views and rich natural resources. Time spent in the region adds up to something much more than a simple getaway. A different side of Virginia. And a great place to visit for a week’s vacation – or to make a home for a lifetime. Authentic. Distinctive. Alive.

About the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and Friends of Southwest Virginia:
The Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation is the coordinating body for cultural heritage tourism and economic development efforts fostering Southwest Virginia’s creative economy. Through a supporting non-profit, the Friends of Southwest Virginia, the combined entities help localities, businesses, individuals, artists, nonprofits and entrepreneurs mobilize and succeed.

A multifaceted plan identifies the cultural and natural assets of the region; coordinates initiatives, organizations and venues engaged in cultural and natural heritage toward more efficient operations for all partner organizations; and develops a comprehensive strategy and capital improvements plan to maximize the impact of state investments in this significant restructuring effort.

Key initiatives include:

  • Branding and marketing Southwest Virginia to the world as a distinct culture and destination
  • Developing and sustaining the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace
  • Expanding outdoor recreation development initiatives and marketing throughout the region
  • Planning and implementation of downtown revitalization throughout the region to instill a high quality of life within our communities and promote them to the world for a broad spectrum of economic development opportunities


Learn More About the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and Friends of Southwest Virginia

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