In Roan Mountain, it’s time to go fishing

Published 8:17 am Monday, January 20, 2020

Equipped with a newly acquired tourism marketing grant from the Mountain Electric Cooperative S.E.E.D. (Supporting Efforts for Economic Development) Fund, the community is ready to drop a line into the lucrative western North Carolina tourism waters.

The “bait?” Roan Mountain and its many recreational opportunities.

Mike Hill, who is spearheading the marketing efforts, says they plan to use the funds — $3,905 — for advertising and marketing tourism promotions, to entice North Carolina High Country visitors to visit the area.

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The grant was acquired by Hill with the help of Eric Anderson, president of the Roan Mountain Recreation Foundation, the 501C-3 non profit that manages the community park in Roan Mountain. This grant is administered by Mountain Electric Cooperative and supported by assistance from the Tennessee Valley Authority for their customer area -— Roan Mountain, TN; and Elk Park and Newland, NC.

Hill, who serves the Roan Mountain district on the Carter County Commission, and owns a business in North Carolina, has had a ringside seat to the tourism growth of Western North Carolina.

“We can’t just talk to each other and create a tourism-based economy,” Hill said. “We already know where the Blue Hole is, where the Roan Highlands are. Now, he says, it’s time to quit ‘fishing in our own bucket.’

“You can’t talk amongst yourselves and create a tourism-based economy. You’ve got to talk to people out there and you’ve got to talk to them in a way to motivate them to come here.

“We’ve always been an industrial-based economy, and tourism was just this thing that sort of happened. It wasn’t the main thing. But now it is and we’ve got to figure out how to invent a tourism-based economy.

“We’ve been given, by God, all these natural resources, all the emblements of the land,” Hill said. “We really are ‘Tennessee’s outdoor playground.’ We need to get that out there.”

Hill stresses a need to look at similar nearby places that are doing well in the tourism industry.

“Everything we touch geographically is outperforming us and we shouldn’t settle for that,” he said.

Hill has set his sights on western North Carolina for seemingly good reason. The tourism economy is booming in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties.

2018 figures from the Visit North Carolina tourism economic impact study reveals that Ashe County brought in $60.73 million, increasing by 5.33 percent from the previous year. Avery County counted $132.51 million and a 5.51 percent increase, while Watauga County topped them all — $263.90 million and a 4.01 percent increase.

Carter County’s figures, while improved by 3.74 percent over 2017, pales in comparison, with only $40.94 million in tourism dollars in 2018.

Hill is determined to bring a portion of those dollars across the state line. With close to a half billion dollars being spent in western North Carolina — $457.14 million to be exact — he says the local draw for experiences in hiking, camping, boating, fishing and more could potentially double or triple the Roan Mountain tourism consumer spending at local businesses, which will spill out into Carter County as a whole.

“The High Country North Carolina region touches us,” Hill added. “People who visit that area are looking for an add-on to an already great vacation. What if we only captured one percent? That would generate sales taxes and use taxes that would be equal to about five cents on last year’s property tax rate.”

Hill has created all the marketing materials and developed a comprehensive ad campaign, which will include brochure insertions in the Mountain Electric Cooperative power bills, High Country Visitor Guide advertising and the placement of 40,000 brochures in 85 tourism racks at landmark attraction locations in the Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk, North Carolina area. Roan Mountain/Carter County events will be added to the High Country Press Visitors Guide’s events calendar and there will be editorial content and advertising for area businesses.

He has been encouraged with local business’ response and participation so far.

“You know, we are hoping to accomplish a lot with this grant,” Hill said. “We are a part of the mountain experience, and it turns out, we’re all on the same mountain. We’re doing good stuff. We just need to get it out.

“Those folks who come to Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties, they’ve done the Mile High Swinging Bridge, they’ve done Grandfather Mountain and they’ve done Tweetsie to death.

“So, now how about the Rhododendron Gardens? How about the Balds, Carvers Gap?

“Roan Mountain is reaching out to a whole other state with a thriving tourism economy, and we’re going to do our best to capture our share of the overflow. We’re going to raise the room tax collections and the consumption tax collections for the district for the whole county. The whole county will feel the impact of this investment.”

For more information, contact Mike Hill at