Thursday, July 17, 2014

Centennial of the National Park Service coming in 2016 by John Dersham




Two weeks ago, I along with representatives from 12 southeastern states went for our annual Congressional Summit in Washington. Southeast Tourism Society (STS) heads up this annual event. I am on the STS Policy Council which deals with governmental issues as they revolve around the tourism industry, both domestic and international. Myself and a few other representatives from Alabama call on our legislative delegation in Washington. Representatives from other states call on their state delegations. Each year there is a list of topics we request our elected officials to support. Tourism is a breath of fresh air for our congressmen and senators considering that our issues are usually supported equally by both parties and they are typically not controversial among themselves or their constituents. My assigned topic this year is one I am particularly fond of; our National Park Service (NPS). I am the current President of the Friends of the Preserve at Little River Canyon N.P. and our National Park system has provided me a lifetime of joy so I felt it to be a good topic for me. It was an honor to talk about our NPS with each of our Alabama Congressmen and Senators. This year my topic was the upcoming Centennial of our National Park Service in 2016. There will be a big celebration nationwide during the centennial year. You will soon start hearing more about this as the NPS will begin a marketing and publicity program about the anniversary and in addition many of the NPS units nationwide will have celebration events of their own. All we asked of our legislator is continued support of? Our national treasure in the National Park System. This support comes in keeping our parks funded and staffed to allow the parks to continue providing their visitors one of the best, most beautiful vacation possibilities in the world. In addition we asked for support in making the centennial celebration a big hit both domestically and internationally.  Our NPS units have always been one of the most visited attractions by domestic and international travelers.
Other issues discussed were a continuation of Brand USA which is a self funded government sponsored marketing unit promoting the USA as an international destination. Another topic was to make it easier and faster for international travelers to get Visas to travel to the USA on vacation.
In preparation of the 100 year anniversary of our National Park Service here is a little history.
Ulysses S. Grant, on March 1, 1872, signed documents making Yellowstone a National Park, making it the first in the United Sates and the first in the world. As of 2012 there are 401 units of the National Park Service that include; National Parks, Preserves, Monuments, Historic Parks, history sites, battlefields, military parks, memorials, recreation areas, seashores, lakeshores, rivers, parkways, historic and scenic trails, cemeteries and heritage areas. All of these national treasures are for you and I to enjoy and all are of equal value in the National Park Service hierarchy.
If you ever question the work of our federal government please take a trip to Little River Canyon National Preserve or any of the 400 other park service units and you will see government at its very best. There is no park system in the world like ours and it should make us all feel very good that so much land and so many historic and cultural sites have been protected for us to enjoy. If you want to compare private enterprise to the park system go to Pigeon Forge, TN. There you will find private enterprise booming with lots of attractions creating a lot of jobs with a lot of places to spend your money that brings major dollars to the tax revenue collections in that area. It is tourism development at its max, then go just down the road and enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and you will see our Federal Government at its best (for every federal dollar spend on the NPS $10 are brought into the local economy). Thank goodness we have both, because they are both important aspects of our great American culture. Our National Park system forever keeps the beauty and history of our country alive and what a great feeling it is to hike, camp, ride a bike or horse in one of our N.P.s or just sit out and take in the quiet beauty of a perfectly protected environment that is hermetically clean, mowed, trimmed and without litter. Thank you federal government for our National Park System…a true national treasure.

Friday, July 11, 2014

I love Fort Payne and DeKalb County by John Dersham




Okay, so I am not from here and it took a good chunk of my life to get here. The truth is I had never visited the state of Alabama other than to pass through it until Eastman Kodak offered me a great promotion to become the General Manager of an Eastman Kodak division in Birmingham. By that time Kodak had moved my wife, kids and I several times including Nashville TN, Philadelphia PA and Hattiesburg MS. Kyle (my wife) and I had already lived a number of places in our lives prior to Kodak. For me, it included Mifflinburg PA, Cincinnati OH, New York City, Columbia MO and Nashville where my nearly 30 year career at Kodak began. For Kyle she was from Overland Park Kansas a suburb of Kansas City and had moved to Shelbyville IN near Indianapolis. Our journeys brought us together 37 years ago in Nashville via a mutual friend. So now, you might wonder what this history has to do with anything related to tourism which is my typical subject of my weekly column. The truth is it is all about tourism. Kyle and I moved to Fort Payne because while living in Birmingham-Hoover, we like many other people from the Birmingham area, became tourists visiting DeKalb County. Our kids were grown and had both moved to Nashville at that time. We started coming up here on weekends doing many of the exact same things our typical leisure tourist do; camping, hiking, visiting the parks, eating, shopping for art…and most of all relaxing and enjoying what we considered the most beautiful part of Alabama. It was quieter than the rush we had lived in most of our lives, less traffic, more scenery and it served as the ideal get-a-way for us. As time went on Kodak began the struggle to keep their 120 year business model alive. Even though Kodak invented Digital Photography they could not find a way to make it profitable. Film, processing, photographic paper and chemicals were where the profit was and it was declining quickly. The company started laying off employees and closing offices and divisions and that happened in Birmingham. I stayed with the company with a small office in Homewood. At that time I was responsible for much of the southeastern states in Kodak Retail Sales & Service and they did not care where we lived as long as it was in my region. We decided to sell our house in Hoover and move to PARADISE. Kyle loved horses and I loved land so we both wanted acreage.  Before you knew it we were living in DeKalb County and loving it.
Tourists feel the same way about our area as I did as a tourist. We have become a location many people retire to or say they want to. Our visitors come back over and over because we are the exact weekend get-a-way they desire or we are their chosen vacation spot. Many of you have lived here all of your life and maybe you do not think about this area the way I do. My love for DeKalb comes via the choice of picking this as a place we wanted to live. Our prior moves were chosen by our parents or by Kodak. This was Kyle’s and my first move we have ever made in our marriage that was a destination we picked.
For all the things to do and see and for a calendar of events please visit our website at www.tourdekalb.com or call us at 256-845-3957.



Getting ready for award winning Boom Days Heritage Celebration by John Dersham




Most town and cities have a festival or two every year but we have more than that…we have an award winning festival and I am going to tell you why it is award winning.
Last year Boom Days won the prestigious Southeast Tourism Society’s (STS) fall festival of the year and won the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association’s (AMLA) festival or event of the year.  STS covers the 12 state southeast and AMLA the northern 16 counties in Alabama. There are thousands of festivals each year in the southeast and more than 300 just in North Alabama.
Here is how it works; please note getting nominated is just step number one. Once a festival or event is nominated, a committee closely reviews all of the details of the festival or event. They look at the schedule, they look at the community activity that supports it, and they look at the premise of the festival, such as why there is a festival and what is being celebrated at this particular festival. They look at what makes this one different from the others, what makes it more special than the others and what is the quality of the event, its artists both music and traditional arts and crafts. Does the event create an environment that is conducive to the celebration? The committee that judges these festivals and events gets all the details off Facebook, websites, promotional material and from the nomination form itself. There are so many festivals but only the most special ones can win and Boom Days has won the biggest two awards there are.
Since I am in tourism and part of my job is closely involved with tourism at the state, regional and federal level I get exposed to all the processes and procedures behind festival planning. I also get exposed to everyone else’s festival through media and education seminars in our industry that take samples of  various festivals across the southeast and break them down into detail to establish the do’s and dont's of planning a festival.
Boom Days wins awards because it is extremely well planned and it displays great diversity beginning with it’s one of a kind purpose, after all, Fort Payne is the only Alabama town that was “Boomed” by New Englander’s who came here in 1889 and brought with them money, art, culture, industry and architecture. Boom Days held in Fort Payne’s historic district brings Fort Payne rich history to life for the week long celebration. One of the most important factors when determining an award winning festival comes in its differences from other festivals. Boom Days has the magic of uniqueness, in addition to having what I feel is a higher quality level of art and music from most I have seen. In addition to being award winning festival I have to give a whole lot of credit to the mayor, city council and Boom Days committee headed by Collins Kirby for understanding how to maximize a fairly small budget for a great big event. Please remember many larger cities and towns have budgets many times larger than Boom Days. It is on a relatively small budget that Boom Days is winning acclaim up against the big guys. If you are interested in diversity among music and visual arts using top artists of our local area or region, some with international notoriety, Boom Days offers all of that.
Boom Days this year promises to be fantastic. The week long event starts Sunday, September 14 and ends with the grand Boom Days finale Saturday, September 20.  The schedule is getting filled so please keep an eye on Boom Days Facebook page and the Boom Days website at www.boomdays.org to keep up with the schedule of events and other notes of interest.



Thursday, June 5, 2014

106th Annual DeKalb County Fiddlers’ Convention by John Dersham



You don’t want to miss a fantastic day of classic ole time Fiddle music. The event is the 106th Anniversary of the DeKalb County Fiddlers’ Convention held tomorrow at the Rotary Pavilion in historic downtown Fort Payne at 202 5th Street N.E. For only $10.00 (children under 10 are free) you get an entire day of the best ole time Bluegrass Fiddle, Dobro, Mandolin, Guitar and Upright Bass music you will ever hear.  The artists will be competing for 1st and 2nd place in each category. Over $4,500 in cash prizes and trophies will be awarded with proceeds to support the Big Wills Arts Council and the Forty Payne City Schools Arts in Education program for 2014-2015.
The event begins with an onsite registration for artists at 11:00 A.M.,  the music will begin  at 12 noon with the Dobro competition followed by P.W. Fiddler, Mandolin, O.T. Banjo, Jr. Fiddler, Guitar and at 4:30 P.M the incredible Leroy Troy takes to the stage. Leroy can be seen on RFD TV on the Marty Stuart Show . The competition begins again at  6:00 P.M.  with the Upright Bass then B.G. Banjo followed by  Sr. Fiddler, B.G. Band and the O.T. Band will end the completion starting at 9:45 P.M. Needless to say this is a major event and you will not be disappointed.
This year at the Fiddlers’ Convention Mr. Marvin Downer will be awarded the Roland Walls Lifetime Achievement Award
Here is some information from event planner Russell l Gulley about the award.
Fort Payne: Roland Walls was more than the morning man at WZOB radio, he belonged to all of DeKalb County, had a heart of gold and a wonderful humor and wit. Roland served The DeKalb County Fiddlers Convention as host and M.C. since its revival in the 1990’s by the Big Wills Arts Council (BWAC) and continued to do so until his untimely death in 2011. He was a man that truly loved traditional music whether it is Southern Gospel or Ole’ Time Music and Bluegrass. He supported all of the BWAC efforts to preserve, present, and encourage an on-going participation in local heritage and traditions. It was in his memory that in 2011 the Big Wills Arts Council initiated The Roland Walls Lifetime Achievement Award with the first presentation to master fiddler, Mr. William E. “Gene” Ivey.
 The organizers of the DeKalb County Fiddlers Convention are proud to announce the recipient of this year’s award to be presented at the 106th Anniversary gathering set for June 7th, 2014. The recipient is Mr. Marvin Downer, lifelong resident of DeKalb County and master Bluegrass Musician known for his chart topping recordings with the Sand Mountain Playboys, and for leading his own group, Marvin Downer and the Bluegrass Four for over four decades. A multi-instrumentalist, Downer is best known for his first love, the mandolin, and has served as the inspiration and mentor to some of the area’s most successful musicians.

 Downer, who started performing in the 1950’s, entertained the troops while stationed in Korea with the 301st Signal Battalion and continues to perform today with some of the best musicians to come out of North East Alabama. “I wouldn’t be playing today if it weren’t for Marvin Downer” states master fiddler James Bryan, who studied at the age of 16 with Downer.
If you have not been to a concert at the new Rotary Pavilion you will love that too. The sound is good and the location is scenic in itself nestled at the foot of Lookout Mountain with the Alabama Walking trail next to it along with Fort Payne Depot Museum and Fort Payne City Park and the historic 1889 historic Opera block all in the same area.
I like to pass on a special thanks to Russell Gulley and the Bills Wills Arts Council for planning and hosting this great event each year. A lot of work all year long is put into making this annual event the very best in can be.

John Dersham

Thursday, May 29, 2014

DeKalb Tourism Information Center and Destination Marketing by John Dersham





Sometimes when I am out and about town someone will ask me why we are not promoting an event they are involved in locally. There are two answers to this question. Let me give you a little background. DeKalb Tourism is a non profit organization founded in 1953 to inform visitors about things to do and see in DeKalb County. We are; via an act of state legislation the official Tourism Organization in the DeKalb County. We in essence operate two businesses. First we operate a 7-day a week Tourist Information Center at 1503 Glenn Blvd. S.W. here in Fort Payne. At this location locals and visitors come to get information and printed material about things to do and see in DeKalb. At this location we will promote any public event that we are asked to. Please remember if no one tells us the event is happening then we cannot advertise it for you. We depend on the event organizers to call us or bring us their event information and advertising information so we can put it on our digital marquee and on our calendar of events that is available on our website and our mobile website at www.tourdekalb.com. We also keep printed version of our calendar of events at our information center and we sent it via a mass email weekly. Call us to add your email to our list if you don’t receive it already at 256-845-3957. In addition we can hand out any printed material you have for your event and we can display a poster of your event on our advertising bulletin board. If you use Social Media to promote your event we will usually find it and share it on our social media accounts. The thing we cannot do for you is any kind of paid advertising.

The second part of our business is Destination Marketing.  We receive our income from a small portion of the lodging tax which is dedicated to the local tourism agency. We only get money when our visitors are here overnight at a hotel, B&B, cabin or campground. To attract overnight visitors we advertise on radio, TV, newspaper and magazine ads and we distribute our travel guides and printed material region wide via several companies that describe tourist information to hotels, attractions, restaurants and other various public locations. We attend out of town travel shows to promote DeKalb. When our visitors spend the night in DeKalb the tourism expenditures really help our cities, towns and county. Visitors buy their lodging, they eat out, they will buy gas and go to attractions and they will shop. This tax money fuels our economy. DeKalb Tourism has been successful enough that in ten years the lodging income and the dollars spent by tourist in DeKalb County have doubled. The largest portion of our lodging in DeKalb is collected in Fort Payne at exit 218 off I-59.
DeKalb Tourism does not buy paid advertising for local events unless it is an event that according to industry standards is likely to bring in overnight guests. For events like Boom Days Heritage Festival and Mentone Rhododendron Festival and Colorfest we have a budget to buy radio ads. These radio ads are heard across all of North Alabama, southern Tennessee and part of Georgia. We also have a printed guide we send to brochure racks across the state that has our county festivals on it. It is a misunderstanding by some event organizers, attractions or lodging facilities that we serve as an advertising agency for their individual business. This is not true. It is up to the individual event organizer, attraction or lodging facility to budget their outside advertising themselves. In the case of festivals the event organizers should actively seek free radio and TV interviews to promote their events and they should budget advertising money for printed ads and radio. DeKalb Tourism is often asked to be on TV or radio to promote things going on is our area and we do appear on TV fairly often but typically the radio and TV station in the case of an event likes to talk to the event organizers. The paid advertising DeKalb Tourism buys is all with the intent to lure visitors here by promoting the things our visitors are most likely to come here for which consist of leisurely scenic tourism with a low cost to visit, lots of scenic drives and hiking, waterfalls, cabins in the woods, B&B’s, campgrounds, state parks, Little River Canyon N.P., the Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway, the quaint town of Mentone, Historic Fort Payne with wonderful lodging, restaurants, parks and museums. We do not name specific lodging, restaurants, cabins or local business but ask them to go to our website to plan where they want to stay, eat, visit etc.
We strongly urge you to call us if you have an event you would like listed on our marquee and added to our calendar of events.
Please visit our website or mobile site at www.tourdekalb.com to see all we have there or come in and see the wide variety of printed information at our Tourist Information Center.