Community offers input for tourism development plan

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Creative juices were flowing Wednesday evening as residents and community leaders worked together to help shape the county’s tourism development plan.

Earlier this year, Carter County received a tourism development grant which funded a project to have an asset inventory conducted and an action plan developed. Design Sensory, a Knoxville-based marketing and branding firm, provided the winning bid for the project.

On Wednesday evening, representatives from Design Sensory hosted a special Tourism Town Hall meeting to get input from the community to help them develop the action plan.

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“You really have a plethora of natural resources here,” said Mary Blair, of Design Sensory. “You should be really proud of what you have.” Blair is serving as the project coordinator for Carter County through the agency.

Members of the Design Sensory Team will also be spending time in the next few days visiting local attractions to get a feel for the county. So far, Blair said they have enjoyed the experience.

“We fell in love with the small town feel,” she said.

During the Town Hall meeting, those in attendance were asked to help create a list of things they see as assets in Carter County in four different areas —Nature, History & Heritage, Festivals & Events, and other Assets.

Audience members suggested some of the more popular attractions, such as Watauga Lake, the Doe and Watauga Rivers, Sycamore Shoals State Park, Roan Mountain State Park, the historic downtown, Liberty!, the weekly car show, the Tweetsie Trail, and the variety of festivals and events that take place. Those in attendance also suggested some of the less widely known draws to the county — such as the annual Frostbite Race on Watauga Lake, Green Hill Cemetery, and the century-old Peters Hollow Egg Fight.

Blair and Design Sensory team member Chris Wise, who facilitated the brainstorming session, also asked those in attendance to name some of the things they feel are the community’s strengths.

Some of the more popular answers in that category included the friendly community, strong faith, natural beauty, a long and rich history, dedicated first responders and emergency medical personnel, a relatively low cost of living, and a community that comes together and helps one another.

Those in attendance were also asked to consider what opportunities they see in the community and what obstacles they feel may stand in the way of developing tourism.

The recurrent theme in that subject was simple — having a shared vision and working together. Many in attendance pointed out there are lots of groups trying to improve tourism and create opportunities for residents and visitors a like, but more cooperation would make the efforts more effective. The same philosophy was applied when discussing local government support and a desire for Carter County and City of Elizabethton officials to work more closely together.

Other suggested improvements included a need for a hotel, better promotion of the resources available, and finding something that Elizabethton and Carter County can be nationally, or internationally, known for and marketing it.

At the conclusion of the Town Hall, both Blair and Wise said they were pleased with how the information session went.

“We have a pretty good listing of the assets that are here now,” Wise said. “The next phase is trying to figure out what draws people here.”

To that end, the Design Sensory team will be visiting local attractions and speaking with visitors to find out what they enjoy about the community.

“At the end of this process we’ll give the county a report to help them develop their tourism plan for both short term and long term,” Blair said.