Jan. 31, 2018 – Ben Farmer, of Farmer/Morgan design firm, called a meeting with community leaders Wednesday, Jan. 31, to discuss a tentative summary of information gleaned from public meetings regarding tourism development in Sequatchie County.
“We got out of it what we needed with regard to specific assets – the ones that rise to the top – that can be developed,” Farmer explained.
An inventory of places and local events that might attract visitors included features that were cultural, natural, recreational, scenic, historic, etc. The river, mountains, and general scenic beauty were pinpointed as one of the top assets listed.
“The river is highly under-utilized,” Farmer pointed out. “For canoes and kayaks, it's hard to find a place to put in and take out. TWRA is working with the City of Dunlap right now, to develop river access.”
Some of the local tourist attractions that impact Dunlap actually are located just outside Sequatchie County, including the Cowboy Church in Bledsoe County and Dead Zero Shooting Park in VanBuren County, but a lot of their business goes through Dunlap.
“Dead Zero is hosting a statewide clay shooting contest in September,” Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janis Kyser said. “People are already calling me, asking, 'Where do I stay?' Fall Creek Falls is closed.”
Lodging is the main problem the panel discussed. Until recently, Mountain Inn & Suites was the only motel in the city. Big Al's (formerly Buffalo D's) recently opened with extended stay lodging, County Executive Keith Cartwright pointed out.
The group then discussed instituting an occupancy tax that innkeepers would tack on to a guest's room bill, with proceeds to go toward a tourism budget.
“You come up with model legislation,” Nina Hunt said, “the County Commission passes it, and then we start attracting businesses.”
Winston Pickett pointed out that an agreement would have to be worked out between the city and the county, because currently the only lodging is in Dunlap.
The natural beauty of the Sequatchie Valley is one of its greatest tourism assets. Photo by Chuck Sutherland. Used by permission.
Possibilities that were discussed included a bed-and-breakfast, RV
parks, and Airbnb.
Other tourism assets considered for development include bicycle routes, geocache tours, and walking and hiking trails with a possible link to the Cumberland Trail.
“This study creates a starting point for our counties to get organized around tourism,” Jenni Veal, of the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association said. “Tourism improves quality of life, reduces taxes . . . Tourists come for a temporary visit, they spend money, and they leave.”
“People don't want everything to be factories,” Cartwright said. “Tourism is key – like a mini-Gatlinburg.”
“The question you have to answer,” Farmer said, “is Who are we? What makes Sequatchie County different? I've always thought of you as very business-oriented people that know how to get something done. But you need to work on your branding.”
“I think we're friendly,” Hunt said. “Friendly and beautiful.”
The tourism study is about 80 percent finished, Farmer said, noting that his design firm is on track for meeting their February target for completion. Then the information will be presented to local officials so they can make some decisions about how to develop tourism in the area.