CAIRO — The creation of a new paid position to promote eco-tourism in Grady County county was just one of several ideas suggested in Monday’s meeting of the Grady County Growth, Marketing and Development Committee.
Committee chair June Knight dubbed the subcommittee that met at the Grady County Volunteer Fire Department the “how” committee — tasked with laying out a plan for how the county will market itself in the Leon County tourism board’s upcoming “Red Hills” campaign. Originally intended to solely focus on Leon County, Tired Creek Lake consultant Will Butler said the Red Hills campaign was quickly modified to incorporate attractions in Wakulla County, Florida as well as Thomasville, Havana and other areas as part of an effort to market the region as a whole.
“Candidly, Grady County was the slice of pizza missing,” he said.
To fix that, committee members agreed that Tired Creek Lake, as the county’s greatest asset, must be given top priority. Ideas discussed at Monday’s meeting included developing an RV park, a nature trail and a paddle trail at the lake.
Committee members concurred with Butler’s assessment that trails are a “low-hanging fruit” that can quickly and cheaply be developed.
“If we had that, they would be out there every day walking and pushing their kids in strollers,” said committee moderator Trey Gainous. “Then you can also bike and you can hike and you can kayak. It seems like the trails should be number one.”
Butler also said the county should start planning to host “at least” five events at the lake every year.
“Every Fourth of July in this community should be on that lake,” he said. “There should be a huge fish fry with fireworks and everybody is out at that lake.”
Other ideas discussed included revamping the county’s tourism website and creating a dedicated board or specific paid position to market the county’s natural assets.
Tired Creek Lake can act as a “hook” to bring people in, Butler said, “but you’ve got to have more than the lake to help you with your whole county.”
The subcommittee will meet again Monday, July 13 at the Cairo Fire Department to continue discussing how to market the county’s assets.
Leon County’s goal to promote ecological tourism across the region can be tied in “beautifully” with the development of the lake, said Butler, who led officials from Florida’s capital county on a tour of the area, but, “their words were, ‘in our world, Grady County is invisible,’” he said. “’The lake is invisible.’”
In order to change that perception, Butler said there needs to be a unified message with an idea of what can be done in Grady County — two of the key goals the committee has been tasked with achieving.
Attracting a steady base of visitors can be done, but nailing a first impression will be key, the lake director said. Grady County will have to be prepared to offer what it’s selling to outsiders.
“If you go to a restaurant and you have a bad first experience, you may or may not go back a second time,” Butler said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the Red Hills campaign’s launch, originally scheduled for July, back to the fall as travel has slowed. Butler said Grady County needs to be prepared with a plan for what ecological attractions to market and how for whenever normalcy returns.
“You’re going to see people want retreats,” he said. “They’re going to want to have some social space.”