Wilma Dykeman Honored with William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award by Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority 

 Late American author and environmentalist Wilma Dykeman recognized with the top tourism leadership award at the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s annual meeting on Sept. 22, 2022 

(Asheville, NC – September 22, 2022) – The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (BCTDA) awarded Wilma Dykeman posthumously with the William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award. For more than two decades, the William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award has honored those who have made a significant contribution to the travel and hospitality sector in Asheville and Buncombe County and have provided exceptional leadership in making the community a special place to live and visit. 

Dykeman was a writer, speaker, teacher, historian and environmentalist who dedicated her life to chronicling and sharing the stories of the people and land of Appalachia. She traveled and spoke widely, but she spent most of her life in Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. Among Dykeman’s many life achievements was her persuasive economic argument against water pollution in her 1955 book “The French Broad,” which garnered her a Sidney Hillman Award for the best book of the year on social justice. She is also well-known for the novel “The Tall Woman.”  

The award was accepted by Jim Stokely, on behalf of his mother, during the BCTDA annual meeting on September 22. The meeting was held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Asheville – Biltmore with more than 200 people in attendance. 

“Wilma’s great contribution to environmental thinking was to get away from this closed circle where if you privilege environmental development, you sacrifice environmental preservation,Stokely shared in a video tribute played during the awards ceremony. “If an area is sensitive to its environment, and preserves its clean water and air, it will attract industries and that will be good for economic development, as well as the environment – this was the basis for a sophisticated tourism development that she felt in her bones.” 

“One of the ways the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority invests in the community is through the Tourism Product Development Fund (TPDF). These funds helped create the Wilma Dykeman Greenway along the French Broad River, making the river more accessible for residents and visitors alike,” said Victoria Isley, president and CEO for Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. “The Tourism Development Authority invested $7.1 million in occupancy tax dollars in the Riverfront Destination Development project, which combined City of Asheville, state and federal department of transportation dollars, made significant improvements in this area of the River Arts District. It is an honor to celebrate the legacy of Wilma Dykeman with this investment as well as the William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award today.”  

Created in 1999 as a tribute to the late William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, owner of The Biltmore Company and champion of Biltmore Estate’s preservation and success, the award honors the leadership, creativity and commitment of the people who have contributed to the success and well-being of the travel and hospitality sector in Buncombe County. 

 Among the past recipients of the award are: Bhagwanji “Bob” Patel,  president emeritus of Virtelle Hospitality; AIR, the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association; Karen Cragnolin, longtime former executive director of RiverLink, spearheading redevelopment along the French Broad River; gallery owner, businessman and downtown visionary John Cram; N.C. Senator Martin Nesbitt, sponsor of the room tax bill in 1983 to fund a full-service destination marketing organization and create a comprehensive strategy to market Asheville and Buncombe County; Mark?Rosenstein, restaurateur and early advocate of the farm-to-table movement; and Oscar Wong, pioneer of the local craft beer movement and founder of Highland Brewing.?View a complete list of award recipients here.  



Established by state law to administer the occupancy tax paid by overnight visitors according to the enabling legislation, the?Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority?is a public authority with a public purpose to enhance the economic vitality of Buncombe County. It is led by 11 local volunteers, appointed as legislated, who provide professional expertise to ensure the effective use of the tax to benefit our community and the people who live here. 

Explore Asheville?works under the oversight of the Buncombe County TDA to execute an extensive strategic marketing and sales program that inspires visitation and group meetings and travel while showcasing and providing free marketing opportunities to more than 1,300 local businesses and nonprofits, many of them small and micro-sized operations.  

In 2021, visitors generated $2.6 billion for Asheville and Buncombe County businesses, from restaurants and lodging to outdoor outfitters, recreation, retail shops, galleries, and breweries.  

Luisa Yen 
(828) 257-4959