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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.