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Pickett County capitalizes on deep family ties to famed lake

Wednesday, Aug 31, 2011

Having a destination for tourism is a major asset. Growing that asset even larger is another issue.

“It’s the primary engine,” said Will Robbins, executive director of the Pickett County Chamber of Commerce in Byrdstown, about tourism.

Dale Hollow Lake is the “big driver” of tourism in the county, said Robbins. He said economic indicators show tourism in the area has grown considerably over the past decade, going from $5 million in revenue in 2001 to nearly $7 million in 2009. He called that “pretty impressive. Even through the recession, we saw growth.”

Robbins believes the recession helped Pickett County in some ways as more people stayed closer to home but still found a way to spend time — and money — on recreation. He also pointed out the county has two state parks and is adjacent to the Big South Fork National Recreation Area.

At Dale Hollow Lake, the main tourism dollars come in the form of houseboat rentals, cabin rentals, fishing and recreational water sports. That tourism also translates into a lot of dollars at local restaurants, stores, gas stations and other businesses. Robbins said they operate basically on a “five-month season” at the lake.

A major influence on tourism at the lake is “generational,” according to Robbins. As he says, people don’t know if they are in Clay County or Pickett County and might not even remember towns like Byrdstown or Celina.

But, he said, they know “Dale Hollow” specifically. With the lake now more than 70 years old, he said many generations have traveled to Dale Hollow Lake and those family traditions are handed down.

The core group of visitors to the lake come from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. However, he also said they have done promotions in Europe and several travel writers from Europe have been to the lake and written stories for various publications.

He also said many people who have visited the area eventually come back and retire because of the low tax rates and quality of life. Another fact is many people left the area years ago to go to work in the automobile industry in the Midwest and now they have migrated back home.

Technology has also helped attract people to the area. Robbins said the new website recently rolled out by the chamber which focuses on the lake has been getting about 15,000 unique hits per month, up considerably than with the previous web presence.

The web has also allowed instant information to people from all around the country and world seeking information about the area.

“It has replaced a lot of the mailed out information,” said Robbins.

One of the dilemmas facing Pickett County concerning tourism is the fact there is such a short season which focuses on the lake.

“We need to expand the season,” said Robbins.

To do that, Robbins said they need to promote the many other attractions the area has to offer, including heritage tourism sites like the Cordell Hull Birthplace and the York Birthplace in Fentress County. They are working to capitalize on Civil War tourism and are also focusing on the scenery the area has to offer for motorcycle riders and others who simply like to take drives.

Pickett County has teamed up with Fentress and Clay counties to form the Northern Plateau Alliance. All three counties have been listed as “economically distressed” by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Robbins believes by combining forces, they can have more success of attracting people all throughout the year.

Robbins is a supporter of developing more RV parks in the area, specifically parks not related to the lake. He said many people like to come to remote areas, park their RV and simply enjoy the peace and quiet. He believes Pickett County fits that bill.

One thing which should help out all of Pickett County is the construction of a new welcome center along Highway 111 in Byrdstown. It’s been an eight-year process to get the funding for the welcome center, which will be the only one of its kind on Highway 111 in Tennessee.

The project was finally approved earlier this year and construction is expected to be completed by the end of September. It will house the chamber office as well as a museum highlighting Pickett County and the region.

Another piece of the project is a historic house which is part of the approximate 10 acres donated for the welcome center and museum.

Robbins said the chamber has a collection of Civil War memorabilia which will be placed in the museum and there are other collections which have been pledged, including an arrowhead display and a blacksmith collection. Those are all currently in storage and will be brought to the museum when it is completed.

The eventual goal is to have a living history village centered around the house that is already on the property as well as the addition of more structures. They have possession of a cabin and corn crib, said Robbins, but don’t have the funds to move it to the site.

“We want to start developing the whole park as a campus,” said Robbins.

You can find much more information about Pickett County by visiting
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