Thursday, January 28, 2016

Come on Down by John Dersham


Last Friday I attended the AAA Great Vacations Expo in Columbus, Ohio. The three day weekend event provides us a great opportunity to promote our area by visiting with potential visitors in person. Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association has a booth there and volunteers from various Destination Marketing Organizations, like DeKalb Tourism and others, come to work the booth to help sell North Alabama as a must visit vacation for the more than 40,000 visitors who attend the event in the downtown Columbus, Ohio Convention Center. These large winter travel shows are fun to work. I always meet a lot of really interesting and fun people who visit our booth. Many have already been to our area and want to come back, some are planning their first trip to our area and some say they have never been to Alabama and do not seem very interested in coming. It is these people we have to sell our destination. They often do not view Alabama the way we do, as residents. They are often surprised when we show pictures of mountains and beautiful fall foliage, they often think of us as flat with mostly pine trees. The ones who have already been to our area love it, they talk about coming back. They like our open spaces, mountains, great fishing lakes, sunny warm weather, great food and friendly people. For those who have not been, but have a trip planned, they learned about us at this show or they heard from a friend or relative who recommended our destination. It is easy to sell them on coming to DeKalb County because of our large terrific parks, mountains, great scenery, hiking, camping and waterfalls. Everyone loves waterfalls and they are all over our brochures and display units. Just the pictures alone attract people to come. Pictures really do speak a thousand words and many people would rather see a picture than read about a destination. Nearly 3 billion dollars are spent by tourists annually in North Alabama. Tourism is the largest non-agricultural business in the state and it is critical to the health of our state economy. These large travel expos that we attend each year serve as a relatively inexpensive way to target markets that we know are good markets for North Alabama. The one-on-one contact with potential visitors with an array of printed material to hand out gives us an edge up as a possible destination for them. These large travel shows are scattered all around the country in larger cities, usually in their convention centers. They often include the exhibiting and sales of boats, RV’s, fishing equipment, camping and hiking gear, bikes, motorcycles and other outdoor environmental products. Destination Marketing Organizations, like ours, usually have an entire exhibit hall dedicated for travel planning. Boats and fishing will have their own hall, as will RV’s, motorcycles etc.




Friday, December 18, 2015

RadioVizions by John Dersham


Talk about some great entertainment in Fort Payne, this is the tops. I am talking about RadioVizions at the Coal and Iron Building every first and third Thursday evenings from 6-9 p.m. Here is the concept; RadioVizions is a revival of a series from 1991-1993 that Russell Gulley (Director Big Wills Arts Council) produced at the Fort Payne Opera House. Back then they were supported by grants from The National Endowment for the Arts, The Alabama State Council on the Arts, and the Lyndhurst Foundation. They chose to start a bit smaller this time, The Coal and Iron Building for a couple reasons. One is to showcase that building as a venue for cultural activities/programs and two is to keep costs down  using the old concept of "packing" a small venue spreads word of mouth and excitement rather than a half empty, large venue. Fort Payne has a reputation of being a walk up town with small crowds. Eventually, cultural tourism will play a role similar to examples like, The Sucarnochee Revue in Livingston, Al. and Meridian Miss., also The "Rendezvous of the Cajuns" in Eunice La., a French Language Radio. The concept is successful in several communities and seems to be starting off well here.
The recordings will be edited into 30 min. programs for syndication to radio for broadcasts. Local stations, WFPA, WZOB, a sister Cullman Station, and a couple of others are slated to broadcast the finished programs. Also, we have through Stephen Foster, of Global Music Promotions and his program, Direct from Muscle Shoals, access to a network of over 500 internet and FM stations nationally and abroad. Alabama Arts Radio Network is also interested in broadcasting selected programs focused on Alabama Artists. The Recordings are also slated to be placed in the Alabama State Archives in Montgomery and The Alabama Music Hall of Fame for preservation and documentation of our musical heritage.
 The basic concept is to present live musical performances, recorded before an audience as an enhancement of downtown activity and revitalization, promotion of cultural heritage and artistic contributions from our region, to raise awareness of our musical and traditional heritage, and use radio, possibly TV, as a tool to promote Fort Payne and DeKalb County.
I attended the Liz Wood Project with Joe Karacher, and plan to attend Peirce Pettis which will have transpired by the time you are reading this column. I love the whole setting in the Coal and Iron Building. It is comfortable, the sound is good and there is this certain cozy, warm ambiance in the room that makes         you want to relax and enjoy. It just feels good and sounds good. I am so happy Russell and Dennis Gulley have gotten this great format started again. It is good for our community and it provides entertainment that is top quality and permanently recorded for radio and for the historical record. The Liz Wood Project played jazz with vintage standards at its best with the added treat of Joe Karacher, who is 98 years old and still played his clarinet like a young man. I was amazed.
As tourism director in DeKalb and as a board member for Fort Payne Main Street, I look forward to these RadioVizion sessions. They nicely fit into the re-development plans for Fort Payne and like most Main Street communities re-developing they become tourist’s attractions with lots of music, restaurants/bars, boutique shopping, museums and parks. Fort Payne is perfect for this and RadioVizions is a perfect fit for Main Street and for the Coal and Iron Building.




Thursday, December 3, 2015

Joy to the world and Peace on Earth by John Dersham


I absolutely love this time of year. I begin looking forward to this whole fall and winter holiday season, beginning with Halloween; which happens to be my birthday. By the time Halloween comes, our fall color season is nearing its peak, the weather has gotten cooler, football season is well on its way, the school year is well established and for me those sentimental feelings of all the great stuff that comes along in the fall and early winter makes me feel good inside and out. I am a very sentimental person who loves to recall all those wonderful times in the past with family and friends enjoying this time of year together. Many of my family from the “Greatest Generation” are gone but I can still see them clearly with me during my growing up years and all the years at Thanksgiving and Christmas all throughout the years. Some people complain about the holiday’s as being contrived to sell products and services and some say the real meaning has been lost for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I disagree with that premise because those two holidays serve as the glue that holds families together and the motivator to get them together. For many families who have spread out across the country (like mine) and the world, Thanksgiving or Christmas may be the only time they get together during the year. It is these holidays that serve as the annual motivation to be with family regardless of how far away and it is the motivation that brings us those sentimental recollections of the fun family times together in the past. It may be the only time of the year that many people get into the reminiscent state of mind and heart. I know there are many people who struggle this time of year for a number of reasons. Some people are stressed about not having money to afford the holidays or they are in jobs where they cannot be with their family, even if they want to and for some there is no family to share the holidays with. For some people the holidays bring sadness and depression. No matter how you feel about the holidays, I wish for you this season brings you joy and fellowship with those you most want to spend it with.
If you like parades then now is a great time for those. We always watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as the cooking is happening and family is arriving. It was the 89th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade last week.  For those of us that live here in DeKalb County we have some choices for parades too. Here is a schedule of Christmas related events and parades:
December 4 - 5 Spirit of Christmas Community Nativity Pageant and Concert Featuring NACC Chorus and Concert Band. The first Christmas will be told in action, song and narration.  This event will be held at the Tom Bevill Lyceum at 7 p.m. Cost is $5 per person. Contact NACC at 256-638-4418 ext 2248.
December 5 Henagar Christmas Parade begins at 10 a.m. 256-657-6282
December 5 Valley Head Christmas Parade begins at 10 a.m. 256-635-6814
December 5 Ider Christmas Parade begins at 1 p.m. 256-657-5717
December 5 A Cheery Canyon Christmas An enchanting day full of holiday programs such as winter wildlife feeding, sustainable giving, Christmas arts & crafts, secret Santa gift shop, photos made with SANTA, storytelling and more!! Little River Canyon Center. 256-782-5697
December 7 Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Come and be a part of this remembrance program presented by the DeKalb County VFW. Members of Fort Payne VFW will give a short narrative about taps and read the names of the sailors that were killed aboard the USS Arizona, approximately thirty Navy servicemen. The program will take place in the Exhibit Hall of the Little River Canyon Center at noon and then culminate at the bridge, where each year, Traci’s donates a wreath that is dropped from the bridge and carried downstream in tribute to those who gave their lives in the line of duty at Pearl Harbor. 256-845-8192
December 11 Fort Payne Christmas Parade and Christmas in the Park Join in the festivities in Fort Payne City Park. Free soft drinks, hot chocolate, refreshments, caroling, then there will be a huge parade to make this annual event tons of fun!  Festivities start at 4 p.m.  Parade starts at 6 p.m. 256-845-2741
December 12 Fyffe Christmas Parade begins at 12 p.m. 256-623-2222
December 12 Collinsville Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m. 256-524-2135
December 12 Sylvania Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m. 256-638-2604
December 12 Geraldine Christmas Parade  begins at 2 p.m. 256-659-2122
December 12 Annual Rainsville Christmas At the Crossroads and Parade Come and enjoy a celebration of the season with this fun festive annual event.   Parade begins at 4 p.m. 256-638-7800
December 12 Crossville Christmas Parade begins at 5 p.m. 256-528-7121


Friday, November 13, 2015

Changing Seasons by John Dersham




Now that Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and the leaves have fallen, tourism in DeKalb County begins to decline for the winter season.  We set some records from mid September through last week for fall season attendance. It started with a record turnout at Fort Payne’s Boom Days Heritage Celebration and Third Saturday Sunset on September 19 and Colorfest in Mentone the third weekend in October, which enjoyed its best attendance ever. DeSoto S.P. and Little River Canyon were full of foliage seekers from mid October until last week. There were several weekends in a row when the parking lots at Little River Falls and DeSoto Falls were so full, parking was pushed out to the streets. Lodging was sold out at the state park and cabin rentals and campgrounds were full. In fact, lodging as a whole had a great fall season. DeKalb Tourism is funded from a portion of the lodging taxes collected. The state revenue office tallies our lodging and we get reports about a month in arrears. We have received September’s numbers but not October. We had our best September on record. Even though fall foliage has not typically begun in September, it is still a time people like to come to our area on weekends. School is well underway and the summer vacation season ended when school began in early August, so by late in September people are ready to get away again and we make for a great place to go for the weekend.  We have 11 million people living within a 200 mile radius of us. This provides an extensive pool of potential visitors, this is one of the reasons we do so well in September thru November. Our visitors are coming from nearby cities and they want a scenic, relaxing place to get away from the rush of their weekday routines. We are especially attractive to locations south of us this time of year since they get less fall color and we provide a nearby destination with mountains full of deciduous hardwoods that garner outstanding fall color. Now as winter approaches our tourism slows down as people turn to family events like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years and if they travel it is often for holiday occasions to visit family. We will have some cabins occupied by families who use them as a meeting point where family meets and they can cook and celebrate the holidays together. Our area has the only ski resort in Alabama at Cloudmont Golf and Ski resort. It draws good crowds from around the region as long as it stays 30 degrees or below so they can make snow, and of course, most winters we will have a few natural snows that help to keep the ski resort open more days at a time. Overall, winter is a slow season in tourism for us and for many other destinations that typically identify themselves as leisure vacation markets whose destinations are usually more attractive to them in the warmer season. In mid to late March we will slowly increase our number of visitors as the weather warms up and people want to spend their leisure vacation time in scenic locations with lots of outdoor venues. March through November are our strongest months with June, July, September, October and November as the leading months. August is slow due to school starting with December, January and February ranking as our lowest visitation months.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Boom Days, Third Saturday Sunset-Big Success by John Dersham





What a day we had last Saturday, wow! The largest crowds ever for Boom Days and Third Saturday Sunset. Downtown Fort Payne bustled all day, the crowd was consistent and really never dropped down in the late afternoon, as has happened some years due to football games. The Rotary Pavilion was overflowing for all of the afternoon shows and by the time the Swampers came on and Delbert McClinton people were standing in the parking lot and the Alabama Walking Park listening to the great concert. When the Swampers performed Sweet Home Alabama the crowd went wild, after all it is the Swampers that performed on the original hit record by Lynyrd Skynyrd. We had 22 music acts on five stages from the fantastic Hootenanny at the Opera House to Fort Payne City Park and the stage in the courtyard at the DeKalb Theater and on the stage inside the DeKalb Theater. The music kept on going deep into the evening with a fantastic performance by Leah Seawright and her band. They sang a wide arrangement of songs from gospel to rock and roll, country, blues and some great Elton John classics. As soon as Leah was done it was time for the rock and roll show at the DeKalb Theater with Flow Tribe. They put on a great show for a good audience. Katie Sunshine and the Trapeze artists from Boom Days put on a Hula Hoop show while Flow Tribe  was performing, it was so much fun.
Collins Kirby and the Boom Days committee and Johnny Eberhart, Amelia Landstreet and the Third Saturday committee did a great job in putting together an event that lasted that long with consistent crowds throughout.
There is great economic impact for last weekend. We had the largest out of town crowd ever for Boom Days. I estimated the total crowd based on a tourism formula that counts density per city block with a multiplier based on two hour turnover  rates. I estimate we had 12,000 to 15,000 total for the entire day including all events. The hotels, cabins, campgrounds all enjoyed great weekend business due to Boom Days. The average family of four contributes $436.00 a day into our economy for each night they spend here. They pay for their lodging, they eat, they buy gas, they shop and they go to attractions. This helps our city, county and state because more tax revenue is collected. Last weekend was a win, win event for all of us. We should be proud to have a great weekend like this each year to celebrate our rich cultural heritage. I loved it all. A special thanks from DeKalb Tourism to Mayor Chesser (better known on Saturday as the Marshal), the Fort Payne City Council, the Boom Days and Third Saturday planning committees and to Parks and Recreation, the police and fire departments and all the volunteers we had all day.




Thursday, September 17, 2015

Get ready, get set- Boom! by John Dersham




It is here! Boom Days Heritage Celebration and Third Saturday Sunset all wrapped up into one fantastic day from morning to night. Boom Days is the state of Alabama Event of the year as awarded at the Governors Conference on Tourism in August. These two events are fun for the whole family. Regardless of your age there is something for you. From a free performance at the Rotary Pavilion by Delbert McClinton at 4:30 to Katie Sunshine and her amazing skill with hoola hoops, yes plural, she can use several at a time. There will be some of the finest artisans in the southeast with us in Fort Payne City Parks and there will be music all day at four stages including 21 music acts. No matter where you may be while walking in the historic district of For Payne you will hear music. There is hootenanny at the Opera House 2-4 with Norman Blake headlining, a wine tasting at Hunt Reception Hall 1-4:30, classic cars, food, drinks and much more. Beginning with Haulin’ for Hannah 5K run at 8 a.m. to the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast from 8-noon, a pet parade (bring your dogs for the parade through town) 10 a.m. There will be professional Frisbee demonstrations from 10-5 , Trapeze Acts 10-5 and vintage vehicles in Alabama Walking Park 10-6 and then again downtown for Third Saturday Sunset from  4-8. The annual Rock and Roll show featuring Flow Tribe is at the DeKalb Theater at 8 P.M. (admission $10.00). There will be a “meet the authors” event at the Bookshelf from 10-3. The city park art show is 10-6 and herding demonstration by Border Collies is at Alabama Walking Park 10-5. Now, with all that said, you need to know another couple biggies; The world famous Swampers will be on the Rotary Pavilion at 3 P.M and a new addition this year is a kiddy train, to accompany other children’s fun activities at Boom Days.
Boom Days is a celebration of our historic culture. We are one of the few towns in Alabama that was “Boomed” by industrialists from New England in the late 1880’s. The imprint they left during a few short years is with us today in our culture and our architecture in historic downtown Fort Payne. From the historic Opera House to the entire Iron and Coal-Opera block to the Fort Payne City Park, the Railroad Depot Museum, stately downtown buildings and Victorian era homes that serve as a long lasting ode to our Boom Days past.
Please come and join us for the fun all day and into the night on Saturday, Sept 19.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fun from now through September by John Dersham





Pre fall is always a super big time in DeKalb County. Now that school has started and gradually the weather will be shifting toward cooler temperatures and brightly colored leaves. Oh, but wait a minute, technically fall is not here until September 20th so I will discuss our late summer pre fall festivals and events which are plentiful enough that fall events will be a separate column, later.
Our first event is this Saturday, August 29 with the 11th annual Fyffe UFO Day. This event named after police got more than 200 calls from the Fyffe area in 1978 claiming they saw a UFO. The UFO Day festival celebrates that day with a full day of music (multiple acts), food, vendors, and inflatable bouncy events for the kids, an antique tractor show, arts and crafts and lots of alien looking balloons and characters scattered over the grounds of the Fyffe City Park. It all starts early Saturday with hot air balloons rides, call to make an appointment at 256-461-8612 and see more details about Fyffe UFO day on their Facebook page.
On this same day August 29th at 6:00 P.M at the Tom Bevil Lyceum you will not want to miss Music on the Mountain with performances  by Norman Blake and Jimmy Forture. Tickets are $15 each. Call 256-638-4418 ext 2248 for info.
Next up on the “you can’t miss it” list is the annual Ider Mule Day held each Labor Day (September 7) at Ider City Park. This timeless event fills your palette with mules, horses, inflatable’s for the kids, food, arts and crafts vendors, and Mule Pulls in the event arena. This event is always fun for the whole family. For more information see the Ider Mule Day Facebook page.
Boom comes the Alabama event of the year.  Fort Payne Boom Days Heritage Celebration concluding on Saturday, September 19 with a day of fun, great artists, and more than 20 music acts all day and night. Delbert Mclinton will perform a free concert at the Rotary Pavilion; Katie Sunshine the Hula Hoop performer will be back. To see everything going on all week, visit Boom Days on Facebook for all the artists’ scoops, times and details.
On September 25 and 26 you will want to attend the Collinsville Quilt Walk. This event each year celebrates the art of quilt making at its finest. Downtown Collinsville will feature quilts at multiple locations for you to enjoy walking around town to see and enjoy.
Fair time! Fair time! The 59th annual DeKalb County VFW Agricultural Fair comes to town on September 28th through October 3rd. This event is a classic well attended event each year. Visitors come from all over the region to enjoy the best county fair anywhere around. Almost every year this fair is award winning. Our fair hosts the best array of agricultural animal events including demonstrations and contests and inside the fair demonstration hall is a collection of the best produce and flowers the summer could grow. From jams and jellies to pickled everything to giant pumpkins, ears of corn, okra, tomatoes and squash the fair has a showing and a contest to celebrate the best in class. If you are an artist instead you can enter art or photography for your prize. Our fair is the best agricultural fair going and yes we have the midway too for all the fun rides and  laughs with all your friends and family.