Tuesday, November 23, 2010

American Trails Symposium by John Dersham

Last week I attended the 20th bi-annual American Trails Symposium. This year it was held in Chattanooga. There were 600 hundred attendees from all across the US and Canada. Chattanooga was chosen this year, much in part, due to its progressive implementation of various types of trail systems throughout the city and on Lookout Mountain, Raccoon and Signal Mountains. Chattanooga in conjunction with its Parks and Recreation Department has been aggressively pursuing various forms of alternative transportation for residents and tourists, including an electric bus system that runs through downtown. If you have been to the Chattanooga riverfront area lately you will see the great walking and bike trails along the Tennessee River. You will also find the historic Walnut Street Bridge (1890) that was saved from the wrecking ball by volunteer groups whom raised money to restore it to a fantastic walking bridge across the Tennessee River. This bridge leads you to the great parks, shopping and entertainment on the west side of the river. On the east side is downtown Chattanooga and The Aquarium, The Hunter Museum and all the river attractions, food, shopping and entertainment. Chattanooga is currently in the process of developing a rental bicycle system for downtown and electric car recharge stations. These are progressive systems of which there are only a few already in operation in the US. All of this helped capture the City of Chattanooga this very exciting and very lucrative conference at the Marriott/Chattanooga Civic Center.

Many of the attendees of this conference work for our National Park System, National Forest Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Land Management.. There were many people representing private environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy, etc. There were educators, Parks and Recreation and tourism people there. Everyone was interested in learning the process of planning, developing and executing the construction and maintenance of a trail or trail system. The conference began on Sunday and concluded on Wednesday. There were multiple classes being held at the same time. Each attendee selected the classes that best fit their needs at the time. I choose the seminars that dealt with the development and marketing of trail systems that would have a tourism faction to them. In these times of concern about our overweight population and lack of exercise, outdoor exercise and entertainment has become an increased area of focus in the United States. I represented North Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association which includes our northern 16 counties of which DeKalb is a part of. As you may have seen Alabama Mountain Lakes has a fall promotion called “Go Take a Hike” which is intended to help get people out on trails and get some exercise and enjoy all the beauty of North Alabama. It is of interest to tourism to encourage tourists to make part of their travel plans, hiking. In DeKalb County we are blessed with many trails of which can be used to help market the total tourist experience in DeKalb County. There is currently a Lookout Mountain Trail being developed that will begin in the new Moccasin Bend National Historic Park in Chattanooga and go all the way to Gadsden on Lookout Mountain. It will take about seven years to complete.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fall in DeKalb County by John Dersham

Fall in DeKalb County

There are a lot of people visiting our county this fall. Our visitor numbers have been very good despite less than great fall color. From mid October thru mid November each year DeKalb County is full of people making there fall foliage journeys to our area. There are a number of reasons we are the destination of choice for people on there fall pilgrimages. We are a short drive for a weekend trip for 11 million people living in a 200 mile radius. We are the nearest mountains for people coming from the coastal areas and we are the first area coming north that has outstanding fall color. We have a good interstate system to get tourists here. We are a relatively low cost destination. We have the kind of lodging choices that are popular for leisure weekend get-a-ways. We have wooded rental cabins in the mountains, B&B’s, beautiful campgrounds and plenty of hotel rooms. We have good roads that don’t have a lot of traffic. This makes the fall scenic drives more relaxing. Our tourist customer picks us for these reasons. We are not crowed like Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge but we have the beautiful fall foliage, great fall temperatures, good places to eat and shop and plenty to see and do. Our Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway which is listed in Readers Digest’s top scenic American drives is always a popular choice for auto and motorcycle visitors. Once on the parkway tourists can take the Canyon Rim Drive at Little River Canyon. They can visit Little River Falls then drive the scenic parkway north to DeSoto State Park and Falls. After that Mentone is a sure choice for their fall foliage pilgrimage.
One of the great things about our area is our growing diversity of things to do. Every year we are adding more destinations for tourists to visit. This year we added the fantastic new N.E. Agri-Business Center in Rainsville. They are booking events very quickly and are an all new source of tourism for us. We have always been a leisure tourism county but now with the Agri Center we are an events based tourism county too. This weekend it is the Tri State Arenacross, motorcycle and ATV event. The event features professional freestyle riders. The events are on Friday and Saturday at the Agri Center.
Also on Saturday is our annual Turkey Trot Festival in Collinsville. This is a great fall event full of fun activities including music, food, kid’s games, the famous greased pig chase and Turkey Toss. There is much more too. It is held in the center of downtown Collinsville.
For more information about these events and more things to do in DeKalb County this weekend visit us at www.tourdekalb.com or call us at 256-845-3957. You can visit our information center at 1503 Glenn Blvd S.W. (H-35) in Fort Payne.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Made in the U.S.A. by John Dersham

Made in the U.S.A.

I attended a tourism conference last week in Oxford Mississippi. One of the topics was entitled “Extraordinary Results in Ordinary Communities” by Vaughn Grisham. He is currently the Director of the McLean Institute for Community Development and he is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi. His lecture was about developing tourism in extremely small rural towns. In his discussion he talked about the ever changing culture in our country and in the world. He gave some interesting statistics about our cultural shifts that I want to share with you. In 1800, 95% of the U.S. population was farmers and it was pretty much the same worldwide. 100% of the population lived in cities smaller than 50,000. This was because in 1800 there were no cities of 50,000 people. New York City was the largest city (still is) and New York City and all its boroughs were only 30,000 in population. Then came the industrial revolution and by 1959 nearly 50% of our population worked in manufacturing jobs of some type and 75 % of our population lived in cities. Now 15% work in manufacturing and more than 90% of our population lives in cities (including suburbs). The largest segment of our population now works in service related industries, food, retail, medical, information management, IT support and the largest of all industries in the US is tourism. Tourism brings the most dollars into local economies and employees the most people of any other industry in the U.S. Here is the good news for us. Tourism is 100% made in the U.S.A. and cannot be exported…ever. Tourists visiting DeKalb County every year provide my job and my staff’s, all the hotel/motel jobs, State and National Parks, attractions, museum’s, etc. Even a portion of the jobs at restaurants and mini markets are there due to tourism. These jobs cannot be exported. Last year 67 million dollars were spent by tourists visiting DeKalb County. This money brought in badly needed tax revenue and provides 171,000 jobs in Alabama, 29,000 jobs in North Alabama and nearly 1,500 jobs just in DeKalb County. Tourism is a Green Industry. It does not pollute the environment and the crime rate among tourists while on vacation is lower than local crime rates nationwide. It requires no local funding for schools, trash collection or other city services. The money coming in from tourism helps support our city and county governments so they get more money to support us that live here. In a time when our country is in dire need of jobs and income we are blessed to have tourism that remains strong and is growing. This year federal tourism programs hope to attract more international business than ever before. This will help bring more international income to the US economy.
Yeah Tourism!