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Visitors welcomed to Mystic Falls
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Visitors Bureau is busier than ever these days, and it may be because it’s added a new city to its promotion list: Mystic Falls, Va. The center is considering adding Sparta, Miss., and Hazzard County as clients in the future.

The trick is they’re all the same place.

Covington plays the role of Mystic Falls in the eminently popular "The Vampire Diaries" TV show, now filming for its fifth season, which premieres Thursday, Oct. 3 at 8 p.m. on The CW.

A replica of the Mystic Falls sign from the show has been installed in front of the visitors bureau to provide a photo opportunity for tourists, and it’s been a big hit.

"So many fans who came to the welcome center would ask if the Mystic Falls sign was still on the square. This was one of the first photo ops they wanted," said Tourism Director Jenny McDonald. "You wouldn’t believe how many people take their photo next to it and post it all over their social media channels. It will stay up till the fanfare dies down, hopefully no time soon."

Based on what she has been told, McDonald said, the original sign was located on the center island in front of Treasure Thai on the square and simply wore out from being out in the elements.

Local sign company Printability built a reproduction; the cost, around $425, was paid from the tourism marketing budget, McDonald said.

"The return on investment for the sign is the PR exposure we get from all the photo ops being spread across the Internet. That type of return on investment can’t really be measured in pure dollars, but $425 was a low cost, especially for what a print ad would cost in a magazine," McDonald said.

While tours of filming sites of "The Vampire Diaries" are handled by private company Mystic Falls Tours, which partners with the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, McDonald is also hoping to set up tours based on "In the Heat of the Night" and "The Dukes of Hazzard," which were both filmed in Newton County in past decades.

When those tours get developed, local residents may see signs promoting Sparta, Miss., and Hazzard County. When the chamber rolled out its tourism website, Assistant Tourism Director Ron Carter invited residents to be tourists in their own town. Soon, that’ll be easier than ever.