Leaders of Cave Spring and residents of the community in southern Floyd County were nearly overwhelmed last week by the results of a report to help attract more folks to the town.
The Cave Spring City Council chambers were overflowing Wednesday with people who wanted to hear the report — and most left the building excited about what a group of experts in tourism and economic development suggested.
“I think we had a great group of folks who showed up for the presentation,” said Sandra Lindsey, director of the Cave Spring Downtown Development Authority.
A Georgia Department of Economic Development and Tourism product development team spent two full days in Cave Spring back in September. They explored the town and came up with a series of recommendations as to how the community could bring in new cash. Lindsey started trying to put together the visit more than two years ago.
Tourism Product Development Director Cindy Eidson told a packed council chamber that Cave Spring has “amazing resources” and a wealth of opportunity to capture a diverse cross-section of travelers.
“Arts and heritage travelers equal a lot of money,” Eidson said.
“(Cave Spring) is a diamond and we are excited to be their partners,” said Lisa Smith, executive director of the Georgia’s Rome Office of Tourism.
The print report, which was made available to city officials and the public following the presentation, indicates that tourism brought more than $159 million into Floyd County in 2017.
The report broke down tourism into several segments including Outdoor Recreation, Film Industry and the Arts. It also addressed downtown development issues, lodging, historic preservation and heritage tourism.
Eidson started her presentation with an analysis of the Welcome Center, suggesting that it offer visitors a chronological history of the community complete with lots of pictures and as many artifacts as possible.
Jay Markwalter, director of the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, said that, visually, the Welcome Center should say to visitors, “Wow, I need to stop here.”
Continuing their examination of physical assets in the city, Eidson said that work to restore the historic Vann Cabin was fascinating.
“Your community making that happen is so amazing,” Eidson said.
She suggested that an addition to the cabin include a visual display of the history of quilting or weaving — something that would be an additional attraction to people looking to learn about Native American history.
Eidson moved on to the historic church in Rolater Park, suggesting that it could play host to dinner theater events in addition to the occasional weddings hosted there now. She said the Hearn Academy building is classic “historic classroom space” and that a variety of lesson plans could be put together to make the building more attractive to school groups that could tour the facility and perhaps eat and do a little shopping in the downtown area.
“We thoroughly enjoyed everything about this community and its walkability,” Markwalter said.
Markwalter told the crowd that the historic cave itself could become even more of an attraction and had enough space inside it for a variety of seated events. He also was enthralled by the variety of dining options in Cave Spring. He said that “food destinations” are hot right now and suggested that the city host frequent culinary tours of the community.
Tracie Sanchez, a manager in the Tourism Product Development Office, took over when it came time to talk about trails.
“Land and water trails are hot,” Sanchez said.
She suggested that city officials visit the Firefly Trail, a 39-mile project still in progress that connects Athens, Winterville, Maxeys and Union Point in Clarke, Oglethorpe and Greene counties.
When the city is able to get a connection to the Silver Comet Trail, she said, it should consider a separate name. One idea: the Spring to Spring Trail, connecting the spring in Cave Spring to Big Springs at the other end outside of Cedartown.
Sanchez also said that in extending the Pinhoti Trail it is important to find a way to bring people into town safely, because trails can be a “24/7 asset.”
Mayor-elect Rob Ware said the issue as it relates to the two large trail projects depends on leadership in other jurisdictions, specifically Polk County and Floyd County.
“That is major money and we certainly cannot fund a lot of that,” Ware said.
He admitted to being a little surprised as to how much attention was paid in the report to the trails projects.
“One of the things I do want to look more into are community trails, trails within the city,” Ware said. “We’ve just got a half-mile loop around the park here and I would really like to see us look at growing the community trail system inside the city.”
Jeanne Cyriaque wrapped up the presentation speaking about heritage tourism.
“Historic preservation is the one thing that connects the story with the place,” Cyriaque said.
Cave Spring has seven listings on the National Register of Historic Places — the downtown commercial district, the old railroad depot, its residential district, the old Georgia School for the Deaf campus, the Chubb Methodist Episcopal Church and, most recently, the Fairview School.
Speaking specifically about the old GSD campus, Cyriaque said the former girls dormitory has the potential for a lot of different uses but needs to have some roofing work as a first step to avoid further deterioration of the building. Eidson added that the old GSD campus could be a hot spot for the film industry.
Cyriaque said the restoration of the old Fairview School initially brought her to Cave Spring more than a decade ago. She told the city leaders that enhancing access to the property should be a priority. Moving on to Chubbtown, Cyriaque said the story of the African American community is an important one that needs to be told.
Lindsey said that recommendations related to wayfinding signage should be easy to implement in the coming year.
“I don’t know what will be next,” she added. “There is so much that we have already done and so much more that we can do.”
Ware said the detail that went into the research and presentation was well taken.
“They really did a good job of investigating the opportunities and being descriptive to us about what’s out there,” Ware said.
Markwalter called the effort to increase tourism a bid to create a steady stream of “temporary taxpayers.” He said that Cave Spring has the whole package when it comes to dining, shopping and recreational opportunities.
“You don’t want to be a best kept secret,” he said.