Do you know what the quilt trail is?
Do you know why re-enactments are planned for the area?
Do you know what movie was filmed entirely in Tennessee and largely in Charleston?
Well, Melissa Woody, vice president of the Convention & Visitors Bureau for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, does. She’s been working to help promote the area for 20 years, first at the previous Bradley Memorial Hospital for 12 years and now at the chamber for eight.
She gave a talk to the Sunrise Rotary Thursday about a variety of changes, new events and programs regarding the future of tourism in the area.
“Cleveland is a very unique community,” Woody said.
Most of the visitors who stop in Cleveland and Bradley County come from the folks who travel up and down Interstate 75 — roughly about 60,000 cars pass Exit 33 every day. In fact, last year the chamber had to print 55,000 copies of its Visitor’s Guide to keep up with demand. Woody also judiciously used the tourism funds available to target specific audiences along I-75 and up and down the East Coast. “I’m making sure I’m very effective with the use of the funding.”
Here’s another fact you may not know about tourism in this area. Bradley is the 14th-highest tourism draw in the state, with visitors bringing about $100 million into the area every year. And, yes, tourism dollars did go down, along with the rest of the economy, in the last few years, especially 2009, but the figures have been going back up for a couple of years now.
And what does this influx of tourism dollars mean for the area and its people? Woody asked. Area residents don’t have to pay as much money for schools, roads, fire department services, etc.
Part of this tourism money comes from a lodging tax charged by area hotels. In fact, Woody said, last year the amount of money taken in through lodging taxes was the highest it’s ever been.
Yes, local companies, such as Wacker housing some of its employees; other companies like Life Care doing the same; the rescue workers who came to help after the April storms; but the largest uptick in additional people staying at local hotels was the influx of construction workers helping on the Wacker project.
“And we’ll need even more hotel rooms for more visitors (in the future),” she said.
Currently, the Cherokee National Forest and the Ocoee River are the two main reasons tourists visit the area.
One major recent achievement — still needing donations for completion, hopefully by August — is the establishing of a Heritage Center on Highway 11 in Charleston. The center will be in a former Regions Bank branch building.
Another major event coming in mid-September is the first Cowpea Festival to celebrate area agricultural treasures. The cowpea is an umbrella name for several varieties of peas, such as black-eyed peas, crowder, purple hull, etc.
“These became staples in the Southern diet,” Woody said. “I like to have something that has an authentic connection to our community.”
Right now, Woody is looking for a country music headliner to perform at the festival, in addition to lots of other music venues.
Next year, Woody will also concentrate on the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and Bradley County and/or Southeast Tennessee’s first major involvement in the war starting around 1863. And, although the Cleveland area didn’t experience any major engagements, it was a pivotal cog in the war because of its railroads and proximity to waterways.
In fact, Woody said, Tennessee is the only state — in its entirety — that has been designated as a Civil War Heritage area.
“That means something significant happened in all 95 counties in Tennessee,” she said. Many re-enactments are currently being planned for next year for the local 150th celebrations.
But one of the possibly little known historical facts about Bradley County is its connection to the Trail of Tears.
“It’s a difficult subject, but it’s one of the things I want to educate people on. ... It’s the right thing to do and not let it be lost,” Woody said. Gen. Winfield Scott had his headquarters in what is now Charleston from which a large part of the Trail of Tears was organized and the Indian Agency also operated out of Charleston. “Bradley County is one of the most important Trail of Tears sites ... but the stories have not been passed down.”
There are many other sites to see in Bradley County, she said. People have come to visit just to see the mosaic tiles at the Church of God. Another attraction is the Quilt Trail, which are quilt-designs painted on the sides of barns located throughout the area. “In a year, we went from zero to 12 quilts. (There are now 14 in Bradley County.) You never know what hidden treasures draw people here.”
For example, around 1960, the Hiwasse River area was chosen as the location for the movie “Wild River” with Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick.
But Woody also is working with area counties in a regional effort to promote tourism in the Greater Southeast Region of Tennessee, including areas farther away and some closer by, such as Apple Valley Orchards and Morris Vineyard and Winery.
In the next three years, Woody hopes to see a lot more tourism activity in the county and surrounding areas.
For more information, contact Woody at the chamber at 472-6587 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)