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Yellow River offers Porterdale ways to build tourism product
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Tourism is big business, a key part of economic development in the area.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development released figures in 2014 that showed Newton County benefitted from tourist dollars. In 2014, visitors brought $119.61 million into the county The state tax revenues were $4.64 million and local tax revenue $3.57 million. Tourism also created 1,088 jobs and a total payroll of $22.16 million.

So when the state’s Office of Product Development, a division of Economic Development, offered to analyze the potential of tourism as a product by analyzing opportunities and helping set goals and objectives, the village of Porterdale decided to ask for the offered assistance.

"Porterdale made the request to have the tourism development team work with Porterdale,” said Josephine Kelly, the village’s Main Street Director. “They were responsive to that because they thought there were so many different opportunities [here] — Yellow River Park, the Yellow River, the work that’s being done to create a water trail on that, the fact it’s the most intact mill village in the state and the [village’s] long-term commitment to historic preservation and trail development.”

The state’s resource team visited the village and met with a local group interested in creating a plan to take advantage of the attractions already present in Porterdale and make recommendations on how to improve the existing tourism assets and develop a plan to improve and expand them.

The team was “very complimentary about what has already been undertaken and achieved by the village leadership team,” Kelly said. “What the report really did was help codify what the city already had on the drawing board. It also help focus as a community on the arts and a series of art projects ready for implementation.”

During a site visit, the Product Development Team looked at opportunities to leverage the existing assets of the community and suggest ways Porterdale can “expand” its product to attract more visitors.

Recommendations made by the team to encourage people to visit Porterdale included:

• Developing unique lodgings, such as loft lodging in one of the old mills or downtown, transforming the Old Mill Hotel, currently a church, back into a hotel, bed and breakfasts or riverside campsites, cabins, tiny houses or yurts;

• Establishing a vibrant arts community;

• Create a Mill Village walking tour, sharing stories of those who built the community; and

• Build a vibrant downtown area with shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian-friendly setting.

But it’s the Yellow River that provides some of the greatest opportunities for tourism, the report said, according to Kelly.

“At the moment, a lot of it is focused on the Yellow River Water Trail to enhance the visitor’s experience of the trail,” she said. “We have very good partnership with the Yellow River Water Trail that and are looking to create more kayak [access] to the river. Part of that is to raise funds and we do that through the Yellow River Jam at noon on Saturday Oct. 1.

“At that same time, we’ll be dedicating the new 18-hole disc golf course and hosting the first tournament at 9 a.m. The same morning, the Georgia Conservancy will host a panel on the Yellow River,” she said.

Reviewing the plan

The Office of Product Development team completed its report, and Kelly said Main Street and the city council have been reviewing it.

“From there, we will develop a series of projects from the report to implement,” she said. “It will be almost like a blue print for tourism and we will continue to work the elements in the report.”

Already, things are beginning to happen.

Kelly said the village is exploring the tiny house movement and examples will be brought in by trailer. “Porterdale is looking for opportunities to do that here to create greater residential choice in the Village.”

Another project in the works is the Makers’ Market, Kelly said. Though a date has yet to be set for the event, the village will invite craft people to submit applications for the 20 spaces available for displaying works for sale. Display space will be $50 and artisans interested in applying for one should email

Kelly said the village had worked with the Carl Vincent Institute of Government at the University of Georgia to create new brochures for walking tours in the area.

“We’re continuing to look for opportunities to enhance the downtown district through business recruitment, events and design elements,” Kelly said.

“We’re looking at how we can create further lodging in the village,” she said. “Just recently the city began the process of passing an ordinance to allow short-term bed and breakfast and vacation rentals by owner lodgings.

Growing art community

Last year, the Porterdale Film Crew was launched by a handful of movie lovers. Movies screened have included commercially-successful films like“The Goonies,” and smaller films such as “General Orders.” Often those involved with the production have attended to talk about the films and answer questions.

The Crew will be screening “Shore Stories” on Thursday, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. at The Speakeasy, located in the back room of the Company Store on Broad Street. “Shore Stories” is a series of short films about preservation strategies for coastal areas in the U.S. and grassroots activism that has worked to protect water trails. The speaker is Paulita Sealove Bennett-Martin, Chief of Coastal Advocacy for One Hundred Miles in Savannah.

It’s particularly appropriate, Kelly said, because of the Yellow River Water Trail group. “We think it will be of interest to the many people who have been engaged and involved in the preservation of the Yellow River.”

“Shore Stores” is the final screening of a series that was funded through the Vibrant Communities Grant.

Kelly said the Film Crew is in the process of developing the next series, “which will take us through the fall and winter. If people want to be part of the committee developing the next series they can email”

Films are just one way Porterdale is building its arts community. “We have a number of artists and residents in the community. In the coming months, we’re going to bring different groups together to develop Porterdale’s arts initiative [and form] a committee that will steer that,” she said.

One hundred years and counting

In 2017, the village of Porterdale will celebrate its centennial. Kelly said a steering committee has been formed and begins meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 17. “One of the goals of the goals of the committee is to create a series of legacy projects that will enhance the quality of life for both residents and the community beyond,” she said.

“At the end of the day ... a successful tourism initiative [is] a partnership between city leadership team, residents, business owners, new business owners and our partnering agencies such as the Yellow River Water Trail,” Kelly said.

“We’ve defined that recreation will be an important element as well. Porterdale is offering opportunities for recreation such as the disc golf, kayaking, nature trails.

“We’re going to be introducing more of those activities over the next two years,” she said.