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.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I love Fort Payne by John Dersham

Wow! We have so many good projects in the works here in Fort Payne. Those include: Main Street Fort Payne, the Lookout Mountain Gateway Trial, and the Shugarts One World Adventure restoration of the Beck Building into the Beck Discovery Center. Every one of these helps us redevelop our downtown area and also each will increase tourism to the area. Tourists love revived downtowns because they like to visit a town and find local mom and pop businesses that they won't find anywhere else. They like to visit the things that will make Fort Payne different from every other town. They like boutique shopping, art and craft oriented stores, restaurants/bars, brew pubs, antiques, walking and biking trails, parks and the list goes on. If you visit some of the towns successful and redevelopment through becoming a Main Street community or via other means you will find a great mix of tourists mixed in with the locals that are fueling the economy of these revived downtowns. This redevelopment of our downtown is economic development at its best, jobs will be created and more dollars will be spent locally by residents and by tourists. All of this money provides an increase in tax revenue collected by our city. This growth will provide the city and county more money to do more things that will help our city and in fact will help provide revenue for the entire county as visitors come and spread the money at our attractions and local venues and eating and shopping throughout our entire area.
Last Saturday, my wife, Kyle, our granddaughters, Tristan and Aris, and I attended Third Saturday Sunset in Fort Payne. We almost always go to this. I think we have missed only once this year. As I was walking around downtown enjoying myself, I was thinking how fortunate we are to have such a wonderful homey town to hold events like this. Everywhere we walked we ran into friends. My 9th grade granddaughter, Tristan, saw some high school friends to talk to and hang out with. The girls played games at The Spot, we looked at a large array of classic cars, we listened to Leah Seawright perform, we shopped in the stores, we played in the park. My six year old granddaughter, Aris, just learned to swing without being pushed and now she can't stop swinging. You remember that feeling of freedom as the breeze blows in your face as you swing up and down feeling the thrill. Oh my, if we could just keep that feeling as adults that we had when so much of what we did and experienced was for the first time. I guess it is the repetition in life that takes some of that sparkle away. None the less, we as a family really enjoy Third Saturday events. They are fun, but also evoke an enjoyment of thinking about our future in Fort Payne, which is getting more and more exciting and giving us more and more to look forward to.