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Perfecting rural tourism in Johnson County

It is heartbreaking to see Johnson County businesses vacant and real estate agents twiddling their thumbs. As a native of this beautiful county, I believe it is time the average citizen becomes actively involved in promoting tourism here to ensure the longevity of the good businesses and services we currently have and to stimulate interest in procurement of even more.
Marketing 101 teaches in order to sell a product, service, or location is to highlight strengths and downplay weaknesses. The obvious marketing strategy for this gorgeous region is the amazing beauty of the mountains. One way to intensify this is by highlighting the many inexpensive activities that can be enjoyed in unspoiled nature. We need to stress
Watauga Lake is a goldmine for tourism however, it seems Johnson County got the shaft in years past when the State of Tennessee planned parks for residents to enjoy the lake. Watauga's surface covers some 10.05 square miles of two Tennessee counties: Johnson County and Carter County. One can hardly drive a mile or so in Carter County without noticing a state park, however, Johnson County was pretty much left to fend for itself. Although the lake draws plenty of people seeking summer fun revolving around fishing, swimming, boating and the like, it is highly underutilized in the marketing of Johnson County.
Another drawing point is the natural beauty of these East Tennessee Mountains. While neighboring Damascus, Virginia, decided long ago to tap into this valuable commodity, Johnson County is once again lagging. Folks also flock to our neighbor in North Carolina as Boone is constantly recognized by travel journalists as an “ultimate outdoor adventure destination” in the Southeast. What does either Damascus or Boone have that Johnson County does not? Hiking would be plenteous. You can choose easy, moderate or strenuous trails which lead to forests, cascading waterfalls and vistas that seem endless.
Bicycling, motorcycling or ATV riding while enjoying the priceless landscape is certainly a draw, but aside from Callalantee, there is no venue available to tout.
Wildlife is abundant as well as peace and quiet, which is priceless to those enthralled with the daily monotony of city life.
As far as shopping goes, we have access to some wonderful antique stores. Our farming and rural heritage is intriguing and is a major draw to many people. With the popularization of television shows such as Antiques Roadshow, and more recently, American Pickers and Pawn Star, there is a growing trend in procuring all things antique, vintage and collectible. When was the last time you took a walk down Church Street? We have some wonderful items to view, enjoy and purchase locally. It seems every item reflects the past and has a story to tell.
Another point to effective marketing is to downplay the negatives. Everyone seems to point to the lack of industry as the “doom” of Johnson County, but it is time we forget about the things over which we have no control and begin touting the amazing offerings we do have before it is too late.
Tourism means dollars coming to Johnson County, which means more money for education, roads, services, etc. According to Tennessee’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, more than 50 million people come to Tennessee each year. The economic footprint these visitors leave is felt throughout the state. According to 2007 data collected by the US Travel Association, tourism has an impact of more than $14 billion on the state. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the country, with more than 9 million visitors each year.
Karla Prudhomme, economic development and tourism coordinator for Johnson County, has hit the ground running and has big plans for the coming months. She is working closely with County Mayor Larry Potter to finalize some ongoing projects. “We have been working ceaselessly with our State legislators to help bring the Doe Mountain Project to fruition, and the Sink Mountain Project is on the path to completion,” explained Prudhomme. “Our plans include providing paved access to the Sink Mountain Boat Ramp area, as this is the county’s only public access to the lake.”
They cannot do it alone. While we may not have a Dollywood or Graceland, we have natural beauty, southern hospitality, serene weather, and something for everyone right here in upper eastern tip of the great state of Tennessee. We just need to let others know.