Georgia would be $45 billion poorer if not for the impact of tourism. It's our fifth largest employer, providing some 391,000 jobs, over 10 percent of all payroll employment in the state. The state's website says each household would pay $706 more state and local taxes if not for the money tourism brings in. The latest tourism figures from the Newton County Chamber of Commerce are for 2010, when direct tourist spending generated almost $91 million, $2.7 million in local tax collections and $3.5 million in state taxes. In September alone, more than 3,000 tourists visited the county due to ongoing film projects and special events like the Covington Century bike ride, according to Clara Deemer, the Chamber's tourism director. Fans of The Vampire Diaries come from around the world to walk the streets and view the sites where the stories take place, hoping for a glimpse of their favorite star.
Earlier this week, I popped by the chamber offices on Clark Street to have a look at all the books, mementos, souvenirs and pamphlets that promote Newton County as a tourism destination, and there are plenty to enthrall and entertain drop-in visitors. While there, I also perused the plethora of brochures and maps touting points hither and yon around the state offering unique reasons to make them a destination for visits of one or two days.
Look up Cartersville/Bartow County, 45 minutes north of Atlanta, at notatlanta.org. Get it? You could easily spend a couple of days there. It's home to the Booth Museum of Western Art, the largest collection of Western American Art in the U.S. Etowah Indian Mounds State Historical Site is the "most intact Mississippian Cultural site in the Southeast." The Tellus Science Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate Museum. The town boasts the world's first Coca-Cola wall sign painted in 1894 and restored and authenticated in 1994. At Barnsley Gardens, stroll the ruins of an 1840's manor house and 160-year old rose gardens with hundreds of heirloom roses. Cartersville is also home to my favorite former governor Joe Frank Harris.
Up in Rome, President Woodrow Wilson's wife Ellen is buried at Myrtle Hill Cemetery, along with four Congressmen, one U.S. Senator and 300 Union and Confederate soldiers. Not far from here, legendary soul singer Otis Redding is buried in Jones County, where you'll also find hiking trails in the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker has a trail named just for him that wends its way through hardwood and pine forests boasting 200 species of birds and 95 butterfly species.
On the coast, St. Marys is the site of the fifth largest submarine museum in the U.S., housing "more than 99 percent of all World War II patrol reports and their command history files." It would take days to cover the 20,000 artifacts, including models, paintings, photos, historical documents and equipment on view. St. Marys is also the jumping off point for the ferry to Cumberland Island, called "America's Most Beautiful Wilderness Beach" by the Travel Channel.
Thomasville in southwest Georgia, long known for its hunting and as refuge for elites from the Northeast, was where Jackie Kennedy sought rest after JFK's assassination at the plantation home of Mrs. John Hay Whitney. Actress Joanne Woodward was born there, as was Henry Ossian Flipper, born a slave in 1856 who was the first black graduate of West Point in 1877. President Dwight Eisenhower went to Thomasville in 1956 to recuperate from illness - and play a little golf - while pondering a second run for office. Valdosta, not far away, was once named by National Geographic, as the Best Adventure Town in the country. It's also called The Azalea City and, for 30 years, Winnersville honoring its title-winning high school and college football teams. Its own name is thought to have come from the name of a district in the Italian Alps called Val de Aosta.
Cordele in Crisp County was the temporary capital of Georgia for a few days in the chaotic days of 1864 and today is known as the Watermelon Capital of the World. It touts its location on I-75 in south Georgia for its easy access to other interesting destinations: the Cotton Museum in Vienna, Jimmy Carter's Plains, the Georgia Agrirama in Tifton, FDR's Little White House in Warm Springs, Andersonville POW Museum, the Warner Robins Aviation Museum and, not to be missed, the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum in Leslie.
Newnan in Coweta County is called the "City of Homes" for its abundance of beautiful old homes in six historic districts all on the National Register of Historic Places. Numerous notables called Newnan/Coweta County home at one time: country singer Alan Jackson, columnist Lewis Grizzard, author Erskine Caldwell, Charles Wadsworth, the founder and director of the Chamber Music Society of New York's Lincoln Center; and a woman named Hetty Jane Dunaway who with her husband spent years developing a place you'll want to visit, Dunaway Gardens. In Georgia, we don't have to look long or drive far for something to do, it's clear.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.