Tuesday, February 20, 2018

State Resource Team Praises Oconee County For Promotion Of Tourism And Offers Recommendations

***Criticism Too***

The state resource team studying tourism and its potential in Oconee County offered much praise of the county in the report it delivered last week at Oconee Veterans Park.

“You all have some really gorgeous things in your community,” team leader Cindy Eidson said. “Everything was so incredible.”

But the team also had criticism, including of the decision by the county to tear down the old jail behind the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

And the team offered a wide range of suggestions for things that should be done, from promoting tours of area farms and businesses, to making better use of the schoolhouse at Heritage Park, to creating an art display at the Welcome Center.

The Cultural Affairs Citizen Advisory Board is holding a called meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Welcome Center, 21 North Main Street, Watkinsville, to initiate discussion of the report and consider how to respond to those recommendations.

Background On Report

Eidson, director of the Office of Tourism Product Development in the Georgia Department of Economic Development, was joined by four of her colleagues at the hour-long meeting on Feb. 15.

Cover Of Report

Those five plus three other team members spent two days in August of last year visiting the county and some of its current and potential tourist attractions.

The county had requested a team visit in August of 2016, according to Alex Perschka, county Tourism director. The county had to wait its turn for the visit and report.

The county only paid for the expenses of the Tourism Product Development team while it was in Oconee County. The state covered the other costs.

In Audience

The meeting on Feb. 15 was an unveiling of that report, and only 15 people were in the audience when the presentation began.

Included were Oconee County Commission Chairman John Daniell and Commissioners Chuck Horton and William “Bubber” Wilkes.

Perschka introduced Eidson, who then introduced the various team members, who highlighted sections of the report for which they had responsibility.

Raquel Cobb, Tourism and Marketing coordinator for the county, also was present.

Watkinsville Mayor Dave Shearon joined the session underway.

Final Report

The group released a colorful, spiral-bound, quarter-inch thick report at the end of the session.

The document contains sections on Arts as Tourism, Downtown Development, Agritourism, Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism, Nature-Based Recreation, and Lodging Enhancements.

Under each heading, the Tourism Product Development team offered recommendations.

Eidson gave me an electronic copy of the report, and I have uploaded it to the Oconee County Observations box.net site.

Watkinsville And Bishop

“The heart and soul of every community is its downtown,” the report states.

Watkinsville got special mention in the report, with the recommendation that the city add more tree canopy and increase occupancy in the downtown commercial area.

Bishop got a whole page in the report, with the recommendation that the city develop a master plan for sidewalk development.

In the oral and written comments, the team also mentioned North High Shoals and unincorporated Farmington, but there was no mention of Bogart in either the oral comments at the meeting at Oconee Veterans Park or in the written document.

Bogart, located at the far north of the county, is in the process of beautifying and preserving its small, historic downtown using Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue.


The report promotes agritourism as something that already is successful in the county and that should be expanded.

Downtown Bogart--Missing From Report

The team visited several local farm operations and offered recommendations for those sites visited.

At present, the report states, there is a “disconnect between county planners and leadership and the agritourism businesses” in the county on agritourism.

The report recommends that the county have an Agritourism Advisory Committee to help address the problem and that the county adopt a unified set of procedures and ordinances for agritourism businesses.

Trail Connectivity

The report recommends that the county create connectivity by linking Watkinsville, Bishop, North High Shoals and Farmington by a trail system.

“Pursue the Watkinsville to Madison Rail Trail concept again,” the report recommends, “to convert a mostly inactive rail line into a haven for cyclists and joggers.”

The county should have a “Friends Group” to lead the effort at creating trails in the county, according to the report.

The county also should develop water trails, according to the report, and should develop additional launch sites and enhance current launch sites along the county’s waterways.


I attended the meeting on Feb. 15 at Oconee Veterans Park.

Sarah Bell also attended and recorded the video below.

OCO: Office Of Tourism Report Oconee County 2 15 18 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

At present, the report states, there is a “disconnect between county planners and leadership and the agritourism businesses” in the county on agritourism.
The report recommends that the county have an Agritourism Advisory Committee to help address the problem and that the county adopt a unified set of procedures and ordinances for agritourism businesses.


Russ Page has been pushing this for years. Melvin Davis consistently ignored him. Russ was and is right. Preserve our farmland & history!

Anonymous said...

Given the final summary of the report a solution is way outside the capabilities of the present staff and setup . Taxpayers money has been wasted for the appearance of a Department with programs that did not happen. Somewhere in the middle of all this report is the best direction for Oconee County.
Ultimately, the BOC has the opportunity to establish positive programs in many areas.

Anonymous said...

If Russ or anybody wants to save something, let them put up the money.

Zippity said...

So, Anonymous 8:55, should we have only toll roads from your driveway to wherever you are going, only private schools, only parks with admission fees? Should we tear down all historical buildings/statues rather than maintain and repair them? I am not sure why you are criticizing Russ Page for wanting to expand agritourism and agribusinesses. That has little to do with spending taxpayer money.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:54 - Your criticism of the Tourism Department is unwarranted. The suggestions in the report primarily address private businesses (Washington Farms, New Creations Soda, Thomas Orchards.), as well as encouraging the creation of new businesses (I.e. A formal farmers market). If anything, this report calls on the private sector to take their activities to a new level. Where there are suggestions for public sector change, the recommendation is to create new zoning codes for Agri-Business, promote publicly owned properties, and invest in infrastructure (particularly aimed at Watkinsville, Bogart, and Bishop.)

Unless you have some concrete evidence to support your criticism, your comment about the Tourism Department is ignorant at best, slanderous at worst.

Lee Becker said...


I hesitated to publish the comment above because of the last lines. I wish Anonymous 3:54 had stopped at the end of the first paragraph.

I ask that those commenting focus on the issues rather than the person.



Xardox said...

"Agritourism" is an interesting phrase. After reading the article I still have very little understanding of what it is and even less of why we should care enough to spend money on it.
Tearing down the Old Jail was an abominable destruction of history.
There sure wasn't going to any consideration of doing anything else.
And we STILL can't walk into our own front door.
Surely whatever the problem is could have been fixed by now. Or do we need yet another $30,000 "study?" Man, they do love their studies.

Anonymous said...

Please accept my apology if comments offended.
Thanks Lee for a download of the report.

Specific examples:
A cup of coffee for visitors for starters and an environment of welcome in the WC building, If you travel down the Main Street of Watkinsville you see art. The advertisement of the Arts in Oconee would be a no-brainer.

A staff that has the wherewithal to understand the present county UDC and potential changes needed to improve businesses and the ability to present economic development suggestions through appropriate channels. All these issues have been part of the government/public conversation of improvements for awhile.

Good office presentation to the public and possible improvements for small business are basic department goals. It should not take an outside agency having to point out or instruct a department on everything from the elementary level of office workings to the very promotion of your county. Many examples of places to promote were noted in the report. Why did the county staff not see these great businesses? The state is recommending that county staff has the expertise to understand & interact with businesses - They are the link to assist and promote.

We may be throwing away County potential. It may be time to start over from a different approach.