State tourism team brings ideas for attracting visitors
Members of the Georgia Economic Development Tourism Product Development Team recently presented their Jones County report that included innovative ideas to boost the local economy.
The Director of Tourism Product Development, Cindy Eidson, served as the master of ceremonies for the presentation. She opened the report by stating she was excited about what the team could accomplish by looking at a community with fresh eyes.
The team members spent three days in Jones County in September, touring local attractions, some well known, and others, not so much.
Tracie Sanchez said the outdoor industry was booming and has a $27 billion impact on the national economy. She said Georgia was leading in that arena.
Sanchez explained that golf courses used to be the number one amenity in communities, but that was no longer the case.
“Now it’s trails and greenways,” she said.
The speaker said river access is huge, and Jones County needs to find a safer way to get on the river. Her suggestion was to create an access point through the Jarrell Plantation property.
Sanchez said other parks in the Georgia system were doing just that. She added another suggestion for the plantation grounds was a you-pick garden and selfguided tours.
The speaker also had ideas for adding shady areas to the Morris Bank Recreation Complex as a Phase 2 for the project.
“The addition of bike racks invite patrons to linger longer,” she said.
Sanchez said Piedmont Wildlife Refuge was in a good location for camping and hiking between Jarrell Plantation and Whistle Stop Café. She said the Dixie Areomasters field was another attraction that could be utilized, and the Rails to Trails program was another untapped opportunity.
In closing, Sanchez pointed out that, in Jones County, the Rails to Trails pathway would run from Milledgeville to Emery Highway in Macon.
“Nowhere in Georgia has a trail leading to a National Park,” she said, alluding to the possibility of Ocmulgee National Monument becoming a National Historic Park. A bill to make that happen is slowly making its way through Congress.
Music and history
Music heritage consultant Jessica Walden, the founder of Rock Candy Tours, spoke about Agritourism, music and arts. She suggested Jones County promote being the home of the King of Soul, Otis Redding.
“He is buried at the Big O Ranch, but he has plenty of footprints in Jones County.
Walden said Redding was born Sept. 9 and his family would support an annual celebration. She suggested a “Try a Little Tenderness Community Cleanup” as a joint venture with the Otis Redding Foundation.
The consultant also highlighted the importance of Adams Lounge as part of the county’s history. Walden said the property needed to be preserved and protected.
“My father saw Etta James and Percy Sledge sharing the stage at Adams Lounge,” she said.
She said Redding was among the stars who performed there and more recently Dickey Betts, the Allman Brothers and James Brown.
“Macon almost lost Capricorn Records and The Office. We need to consider purchasing the building. The sign itself is a piece of history,” she said.
Walden said a short documentary about the venue could create the needed interest.
Turning to agritourism, she said Wheeler’s Nursery in Jones County has been known for the R.L. Wheeler Camellia since 1948 and could be included on the Georgia Camellia Trail.
“You need to decide who you want to be to the outside world,” she said.
Walden said utilizing the W.E. Knox Center for art events could bring thousands of dollars to the community. She said the Fox Theater Institute could help provide funds for improvements to the center.
She noted that Chaptacular is a unique annual event that the community should get behind.
“The best way to attract people is to talk about what you have,” she said.
Walden said incentives can be the key and suggested placing art in empty storefronts.
“Butler’s Garage is wonderful, and the train depot presents tremendous possibilities,” she said. “Your heritage and culture are the infrastructure of your collective soul.”
Eidson said it was important to offer tourists a place to stay and Jones County needed more options.
“People love retro motels. The Thunderbird in Savannah is always sold out,” she said.
The director said heritage travelers want to stay where there is history. She said the Skyline Motel is close to Adams Lounge, and it’s possible Martin Luther King Jr. stayed there.
Eidson added that the Jarrell Plantation Bed and Breakfast was heaven.
“Travelers want the full experience. You want them to stay overnight,” she said.
She said Clinton was history in the making, and it needed a bed and breakfast so people could walk around and enjoy the history.
“Old Clinton is special, but it needs to bring in money so it can stay special,” she said.
Eidson said railroad cars could be brought in and used for rooms.
“Lodging is the key. You don’t want people to have to go into Macon to stay.”
The director said Craig Dominey, who is the creator and manager of the State of Georgia’s Camera Ready program, was not able to attend the session, but he told her that Clinton, Adams Lounge, Jarrell Plantation and Jonesco Clubhouse were the type of location filmmakers were interested in.
Eidson added that camera ready meant just that.
“When we put pictures of properties on the camera ready website, we have to be sure the owners are okay with movie crews and all that go with it being on their property,” she said.
She noted that all 159 of Georgia’s counties were considered camera ready.
Corinne Thornton, director of regional services, said the majority of recommendations from the team have a preservation theme and it’s important to understand there are resources to help.
She said the state has a National Register of Historic Places, and several of Jones County’s buildings are already on it.
“Courthouses are the heart of most communities. People come there every day to transact business,” she said.
Thornton said cemeteries are part of heritage tourism, and Old Clinton Barbecue also has history. She suggested History and Heritage’s 107 books could be put on podcasts.
“You have an abundance of rich African-American history here,” she said.
Consultant Bruce Green said Old Clinton has a new audience, and the story of Jacob Hutchings is a gold mine.
“You’re talking about a town built on a foundation a black man laid,” he said.
Green said there was an enormous market for black heritage.
“African-American culture is the fastest growing travel trend. It has incredible potential and possibilities,” he said.
The speaker said it could include day tours, but it would need printed materials.
“I know the homes in Clinton are private, but the streets are public. You could have guided tours or use phone apps to tell the story,” he said.
Green noted that Clinton was founded after the Revolutionary War.
“You possess a wonderful community that is setting where it was in 1808,” he said.
The speaker pointed out that currently there are no signs to guide people to Clinton from the highway.
Eidson said more grant funding is available because of the resource team visit, and more information about the funding was included in the report booklet that was compiled by the team. Copies of the book are available at the Jones County/Gray Chamber of Commerce and a digital version is available on the Chamber website, www.jonescounty.org.
Edison said the team would continue to be available to help.
“We’ll keep coming back,” she said.