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Cities Use Resources and Signature Events to Attract Visitors

May 10, 2016  |  Gale Gay
The cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay welcome 50,000-70,000 visitors to the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club-sponsored Georgia Apple Festival.

Learning how to bank on natural resources, special events, history, landmarks and new development is key to cities attracting visitors, businesses and even new residents to their communities.
 
Forty-five years ago the cities of Gilmer County—Ellijay and East Ellijay—honored local farmers with an appreciation dinner sponsored by the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club. It was a small affair that has blossomed into the county’s biggest event, the Georgia Apple Festival.
 
The festival is now a four-day celebration taking place this year on October 8-9 and October 15-16. The Georgia Apple Festival hosts more than 300 ven­dors, 50,000-70,000 visitors and provides approxi­mately 1,000 service hours to volunteers. It includes a 5K race, car show, parade as well as a spin-off event “Apple Arts.” Proceeds from the race aid a drug court and revenue from the car show supports local schol­arships. The funds from the Georgia Apple Fest also pay for chamber operations and training, as well as support for the chamber’s 523 members.
 
According to Ellijay city officials, the festival has great impact on the city. “It [the Georgia Apple Fes­tival] exposes new visitors to our community,” said Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle, adding it also “increases sales for local businesses [as well as] brings a tremendous amount of people to our downtown.”
 
Hoyle hopes that visitors to the festival remem­ber Ellijay as a “quaint, welcoming, historic town full of friendly people,” and will return for trips, to rent cabins, shop, eat and take advantage of the many rec­reational opportunities.
 
Rockmart’s Silver Comet Trail Welcomes International Talent
In Rockmart, something some once considered old and used has been turned into something new and vibrant, and it’s paying dividends for the city of ap­proximately 4,200.
 
The Silver Comet Trail, built on an abandoned rail line that transported passengers and mail from New York to Alabama from 1947-1969, now is a route for walkers, runners, bikers and skateboarders. Accord­ing to Rockmart City Manager Jeff Ellis, the trail has been a magnet not only for locals, but for visitors from across the country and around the world. “It’s been a great help to us,” said Ellis.
 
The 100-mile long trail, which stretches from Smyrna to Anniston, Ala., was established in 2000 and cuts through Cobb, Paulding and Polk counties.
 
Since the opening of the trail, Rockmart has host­ed several events that draw new audiences to the northwest Georgia city, such as the SK8 race, a com­petition for long board skateboarders that’s brought international athletes to the city for the past five years. According to Ellis, competitors have come from as far away as England, France, Germany and the Czech Republic
.
Thanks to the trail, Rockmart also has experi­enced steady growth in the attendance at its annual Rockmart Homespun Festival, which will celebrate its 39th year this July.
 
Ellis said city officials have future plans of linking Rockmart and the Silver Comet Trail in marketing ef­forts that will create a distinctive brand to lure more tourists and events to the area. He’s also optimistic that it will prove beneficial for economic develop­ment of Rockmart’s downtown.