When a Georgia Tourism Product Development Team visited Catoosa County recently to access the potential of tourism growth, some of its strongest recommendations came in the area of outdoor recreation — ways to improve and expand it.
There was a reason for that. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation is a $27.3 billion industry in the state of Georgia. It employs more people than the auto industry in the state — 238,000 vs. 207,000, and generates $1.8 billion in wages and salaries.
Those numbers cover such outdoor sports and activities as biking, canoeing, kayaking, hiking and running, camping, fishing and hunting — and the related money people spend on gear. But they include other things, too, like disc golf and pickleball (a game similar to badminton that can be played at many levels and even has rules for wheelchair-bound players).
Catoosa is already fairly rich in outdoor opportunities. There are canoe launches, parks, recreation grounds, golf courses, playgrounds, walking and running trails, horse trails and more. Chickamauga Battlefield makes the area all the richer with its biking and hiking opportunities.
Much of what the development team recommended for the area in the way of outdoor recreation has to do with adding appeal and pizzazz to what already exists. They suggested adding pickleball to the agenda at Jack Maddox Park, to go along with the park’s disc golf and fishing rodeos. They also suggested adding shaded picnic areas and a splash pad. Partnering with other attractions is also listed as a suggestion in the report the team produced, including working with the Chattanooga Audubon Society and working with Lake Winnie to paint a mural on the metal silo next to the sports fields.
Murals are a significant part of the team’s recommendations. They suggested they be added along trails near canoe launches and in other public places. Keeping with the art theme, the team also suggested “contemplative painting in nature” — setting up nooks along nature trails where artists can sit with their colors and canvasses and recreate the beauty they see before them. Public art in the form of sculpture was yet another suggestion for recreation areas.
The team suggested partnering with libraries and literary groups to develop reading, poetry and theater hikes, including some about the Trail of Tears.
Numerous suggestions were made for upgrades to existing public spaces, from resurfacing paths and wood walkways to installing new playground equipment, adding more benches and picnic tables and improving fire pits.
Adding a “low ropes course” to attract corporate and youth retreats was a suggestion for Elsie Holmes Park, as was the idea of adding treehouse lodging.
Signage to help visitors and locals find their way was a big part of the recommendations, with a focus on uniformity so people can easily spot the next turn in a trail or take the right path at a fork. Also suggested was hand-cranked solar recording boxes that tell the stories of different areas, more reliable devices than some of the current recording boxes that have broken down in some locations.
And speaking of sound, the team suggested interactive elements to walking and hiking trails — bells people can ring, drums, whistles that sound like wildlife, along with interpretive panels that depict the history and stories of the area.
The team suggested that Battlefield Outdoors in Fort Oglethorpe add a giant map on a wall, showing biking and kayaking/canoeing areas, and also provide a digital route using the free “Ride with GPS” service, and mentioned that a grant might be sought from the Lyndhurst Foundation for the project. They also suggested the business, which already sells and rents bikes, e-bikes, canoes and kayaks, might want to add windsock couches to its inventory — inflatable sofas that can be carried in a backpack and “blown up” by waving them and scooping air into them.
A larger project that was recommended was creating a smooth and safe biking pathway from Chattanooga to Chickamauga Battlefield. “Cycling to the Battlefield from Chattanooga,” says the report, “is a frightening proposition even for the most experienced cyclist.”
The team said they would like to see Fort Oglethorpe as part of the biking experience rather than a place people simple drive through to get to their biking destination. “Finding a safe way for cyclists to ride to the Battlefield from Chattanooga would encourage them to see Fort Oglethorpe in a different light – at a slower pace — and allow them to plan excursions that include restaurant stops, rather than simply driving back to Chattanooga from the Visitors Center after their ride.”
According to Outdoor Industry Association, 58% of Georgians engage in some sort of outdoor recreation. The Georgia Tourism Product Development Team believes that capitalizing on that will help Catoosa County and its cities grow economically and will improve what the area has to offer its own residents.