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Tourism dollars on the rise

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By James Roberts

Tourism dollars spent in Taylor County increased more than any other county in the Southern Lakes and Rivers region last year.

According to the Kentucky Tourism Department, tourists visiting Taylor County spent $42.8 million in 2007, a 10.6 increase from the $38.7 million spent in 2006.

The increase was enough to give the county the largest jump in the 10-county region it shares with Adair, Casey, Clinton, Cumberland, Green, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell and Wayne counties. Pulaski saw the second largest jump with a 7.5 percent increase to $97.2 million.

The study, conducted by the Travel Industry Association, uses a number of sources, including state revenue department information, Census data, hotel and lodging occupancy data and restaurant and retail sales receipts.

Green River Lake remains the county's biggest draw, according to Taylor County Tourist Commission Executive Director Marilyn Clarke.

And the lake may have seen a few extra tourists last year.

Early last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers placed the Wolf Creek Dam in Jamestown under high risk for failure status due to increased seepage. A rehabilitation project is underway, with completion expected in 2014.

"We had hoped it would [attract more people to Green River Lake], but I can't see that much of an increase. There is an increase, so maybe it did."

With expanded or additional lodging facilities at Green River Lake, Clarke said, tourism could increase even more.

"We are hoping for a lodge," Clarke said. "If we could get a lodge on the lake that would be wonderful."

The on-again, off-again project to build a lodge and golf course at Green River Lake is currently on hold.

But the lake isn't the only attraction drawing in tourists.

"I've worked to establish the Highway 68 sale," Clarke said. "Debby Spencer tells us that it is getting bigger each year."

Spencer is the director of tourism and development for Bowling Green-based We Make Things Happen Corp., which helps organize the 400-Mile Sale.

History and heritage are draws as well, Clarke said, pointing to local Civil War sites and the Quilt Block Design on Rural Barns initiative. A recent project that places painted quilt patterns on the sides of barns, Clarke said the venture has gained plenty of interest.

The Jacob Hiestand House Museum on KY 210 is also a popular destination for history buffs.

"The Hiestand House has also always been a big draw."

The Hiestand House Foundation is in the second step of a multi-phase project to recreate an 1800s-era plantation at the Jacob Hiestand House. The foundation is currently rebuilding a dogtrot-style slave cabin. Popular in the south, a dogtrot is essentially two cabins joined by a shared roof.

Green River itself is a tourist attraction, Clarke said. Visitors like to float down the river on rafts or inner tubes.

Another big draw is the annual Fourth of July Celebration, Clarke said.

"We also have Miller Park. We have a nice facility for kids to play softball or tee-ball."

A variety of activities for all ages is an important aspect of Taylor County's tourism economy. According to the Kentucky Tourism Department, 46 percent of the tourist stays in the Southern Lakes region were families with children.

The three most popular activities participated in by tourists in the Southern Lakes Region were dining, shopping and boating/sailing.

For 2008, the big story will be the impact high gas prices have had on tourism.

Clarke said it appears people are not venturing very far from home for vacations this year. And while she is worried the tourism economy could dip this year, Taylor County may not see much of an impact.

According to a Kentucky Tourism profile of the Southern Lakes Region, 80 percent of the region's tourists traveled 300 miles or less, while 60 percent stayed more than one night. The average visitor traveled 277 miles to the region and stayed 2.6 nights.

Overall, 44 percent of the Southern Lakes tourists came from within the state. The remainder came from Cincinnati, Knoxville, Columbus and Indianapolis.

Clarke travels to boat shows in those areas to promote Green River Lake and other Taylor County attractions.

Though the 2008 numbers will not be tallied until next year, Clarke is optimistic.

"We are still getting people. We're very happy about that."

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.