Pictured above, volunteers prepare delicious pancakes for guests in the “to-go” line during the annual Kiwanis Club Pancake Day at The Venue at Coosa Landing on Feb. 15.
For much of the 20th century, Gadsden was an industrial-heavy town highlighted by rubber, textile and steel production. As those industries began to decline, local leaders began looking for ways to replace the economic impact lost. The local legislative delegation worked on creating a new tourism board to attract new visitors and new money to the city and county. This board has worked hard to develop tourism in Gadsden and Etowah County and looks forward to doing the same in 2020.
In 2009, the Etowah County Tourism Board was created with nine appointments from stakeholders interested in economic growth through tourism. Stakeholders include our four local legislators, the mayor of Gadsden, the Chamber of Gadsden & Etowah County, the County Mayors Association, the Etowah County Commission and the local hotel industry.
The board hired a professional and tourism-trained executive director in October of 2009.
The Coosa River and Noccalula Falls Park certainly top the list of tourism assets in Etowah County. The Coosa River touches five communities in the county, and its history is rich in transportation and recreation. Bass fishing tournaments bring thousands of anglers to Etowah County each year. A recent report cited fishing tournaments as a $10,000,000 a-year industry. 2020 will see two national tournaments added to the Coosa Landing schedule – the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open and the FLW Toyota Series.
Noccalula Falls Park, home of the 90-foot Noccalula Falls waterfall, features a petting zoo, campground, pioneer village, botanical gardens, mini-golf, hiking and biking trails, trout fly-fishing and sweeping vistas of the surrounding area.
Downtown Gadsden’s First Friday celebrations bring thousands into town monthly. The even has become so successful it has been emulated in many towns throughout Alabama and the Southeast.
The Summer Concert Series at historic Mort Glosser Amphitheater each summer after First Friday packs the house with music fans.
The World’s Longest Yard Sale takes place each August and draws many thousands of visitors and vendors from across the land.
The tourism board works to bring events to Etowah County as well, such as the Barbarian Challenge. The race has steadily grown in participation and event rights were purchased by the City of Gadsden in 2015. The Gadsden Parks and Recreation Department has produced the event the last five years. Participation is expected to reach more than 2,000 this year, including the Kids’ Challenge, with total attendance of more than 3,500.
Noccalula Falls Park recently finished constructing new multi-use trails bringing the total mileage of the Black Creek Trails to over 13, allowing the park to be considered for mountain bike races.
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association will bring a race to the falls in early 2020, with another group bringing a race in Winter 2020.
Art on the Rocks returns after a rebirth in 2019 and joins Smoke on the Falls, Wheels on the Hill and Christmas at the Falls as seminal events.
Fly-fishing for rainbow trout was introduced in November 2019 and has been met with widespread enthusiasm and excitement for Year 2.
After a full year under operation, the Venue at Coosa Landing has proved its worth as an event facility and a more than worthy replacement and upgrade for Convention Hall. With over 25,000 square feet of event and meeting space, The Venue can handle meetings, expos, music and other special events in a contemporary facility. Over 200 events were held in during its first year. The facility abuts Riverwalk Park at Coosa Landing and the newly opened Buffalo Wild Wings, which has proven to be a hit with sports fans, boaters and wing-lovers.
The City of Gadsden and Gadsden State Community College recently announced a partnership to create a new sports park on the college’s property on the Coosa River that will create new sports tourism opportunities as well as new recreational assets for local citizens. Soccer, softball and baseball, a Miracle Field, sand volleyball and a BMX track will be included in the facility.
Work continues on soccer fields in Rainbow City that will cater to local athletes and travel ball opportunities.
The City of Southside is working hard on completing a new boat ramp and park on the Coosa River just north of the Highway 77 bridge that will include a boat ramp, bait shop, rental slips, docks, a roped-off swimming area, picnic tables and a site for a potential restaurant. New fishing tournaments can be attracted to the facility, increasing visits to Etowah County.
The tourism board markets under the doing-business-as name of “Greater Gadsden Area Tourism” to leverage the City of Gadsden’s appeal as a focal point to those not familiar with Etowah County. The board creates a visitors guide, which is distributed throughout the state by the Alabama Tourism Department at its welcome centers, by the Alabama Travel Council in various attractions and hotels throughout the state and in the northern 16 counties by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. Brochures also are mailed from requests by phone, mail, web and magazine ad fulfillment. Since the visitor guide’s creation, more than 116,000 have been distributed.
The tourism board also has bass fishing, fly fishing, golf, and meeting and event spaces guides available. All the brochures are available for download on the tourism website at www.greatergadsden.com.
From 2009 through 2018, state lodgings taxes collected in Etowah County have grown 35.8 percent, according the to the Alabama Department of Tourism annual report in 2018. Tourism is economic impact and continues to be a vibrant part of Gadsden and Etowah County’s economy.
The 2019-2023 tourism board of directors include Chair Kendall Hamilton, vice-chair Jamey Moore, secretary Nanda Patel, board attorney Christie Knowles, board attorney Emily Mills, board treasurer Todd Hindsman, executive director Hugh A. Stump III, administrative assistant Cheryl Pate and board members Jay Freeman, John Hatley, Harry McLendon, Jeff Overstreet, Joey Statum and Dave Tumlin.