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September 2019
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Tourism may help local economy but our plans must be realistic

Tourism in Pickens County has reared its lovely head again, crooning a siren song that this is the key to our economic prosperity. Several events have just arrived together, pushing tourism to forefront attention. Those include the March debut of Gibbs Gardens on Yellow Creek Road (900 visitors in one day its second week); the announcement that BRAG will again bring more than 1,000 bicycling tourists and their families this June; plus a second annual Jasper ArtFest coming this spring.

And we will just have to wait and see what impact the filming of movie scenes at Jasper City Park for a Clint Eastwood film may bring. The director is shooting the movie in bits and pieces all over Georgia.

Based on the writings of local merchant Royce Haley, scribe of “Eclectic Finds” (on page 2A this week and last), even with no organized attraction here, a lot of traveler commerce is landed locally simply by operating an attractive storefront beside Highway 53. As Haley notes, much of his Burnt Mountain Trading Company’s revenue arrives here in the pockets of people just out for a ramble.

There is certainly a lot to be said for tourism as an industry. It is extremely clean. And customers leave at the end of the day, which means they won’t be needing classrooms here for their children or fire protection for their homes.

So we hope tourism does come to play a bigger role in this county’s financial well being. But to create more opportunity here in that line, we still have some work to do. In an emperor-has-no-clothes moment, we point out Pickens still has no bona fide attraction.

There are some nice features here, including the Sharptop Arts Center, the Marble Festival, the Old Jail/Cabin and some fine eateries. But ask yourself, compared with what is out there across the state, how far would you drive for what this county currently offers? Our bet is not that far.

We’re a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to visit as things stand now.

The newly formed Four Corners Consortium aims to link Pickens County and surrounding counties in an effort to create more of an area approach. This is good. For Pickens, being in the middle of some good things, like Gibbs Gardens on one side and the Booth Museum/Indian mounds at Cartersville on the other, should surely increase our tourist traffic.

But for all those tuned up to sing the praises of tourism, here are some questions or points we hope you will consider.

• We are currently a “drive-through” area. People may not come here as a destination, but plenty pass through, even if it is only to reach Blue Ridge. Having attractive roadsides, signage and businesses that might lure someone to stop a while could help us develop those tourist dollars, even if we never add another attraction.

• Sunday is more important for tourist dollars than we previously believed. One thing Mr. Haley’s column reveals is that Sunday is a very strong day for anyone relying on tourist bucks. Event organizers and business owners may want to give more emphasis to Sundays. Throughout spring, Saturdays are booked solid with multiple events going on at the same time on many weekends. How about a few brave souls to try Sunday afternoons this year?

• They may not be tourists in the normal sense, but let’s not forget there are a lot of shoppers and diners out in the Henderson Mountain area and living around Four Mile Church. A tourism plan to target people within 20 miles would find a surprising number who currently venture outside Pickens without giving establishments here a fair chance.

We are optimistic tourism could play a significant role in the future around here, but we’d throw in a dash of realism, saying there are considerable challenges still to overcome with that.