Wednesday, July 30, 2014

MissCo Tourism: We have a lot to offer!

Tourism is a very viable industry in Arkansas, hosting more than 23 million visitors, sustaining nearly 60,000 direct travel-related jobs, and bringing in $5.9 billion in revenue in 2013 alone (source).  With better promotion of existing offerings and new incoming area features, Mississippi County is poised to become a bigger part of state tourism.

The history of the Dyess Colony project, what it did for families during the Great Depression, and the scores of people that found hope in their future is gorgeously presented in the Administration Building. It paints a picture of a lifestyle not too many years gone. When visiting the Cash home, visitors can take that information and imagine living in the house during that period, looking out the kitchen window at the crop that was providing for their family, sharing a bedroom with their siblings or parents, gathering at the piano to enjoy mama's playing because it was the only entertainment one could afford (but still loved it), sitting on the porch enjoying the quiet breeze in the fall, and huddling around the wooden stove in the cold winters. One does not have to be a Johnny Cash fan to appreciate the historical significance of the home, or the painstaking accuracy taken in its restoration. It is just a pretty big added bonus that it happens to be the boyhood home of such an influential musician

Our area has many notable attractions, from the restored art deco Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Blytheville to Sans Souci Park on the Mississippi River in Osceola, or the quaint Tudor-style square in Wilson to Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Manila. However, there is not a solitary ace in the hole tourist destination that on its own has the power to pull people off the interstate, travel from all over the area, possibly even the country, and take time to visit Mississippi County. What we DO have is a rich collection of all sorts of interesting things that, when put together, truly does make our area a very rich place to visit or make your home. Whether you are looking for things to do as a family, or are interested in war history, or are a music buff or just enjoy the outdoors, Mississippi County has something for everyone.

If you think, "there is nothing to do here," we would like to highlight some of the different ways our county can draw interest:

The legendary Blues Highway 61 runs like a vein through our county, making music heritage the biggest influence of our area, second only to agriculture. The aforementioned Johnny Cash boyhood home is just one point of interest. Dyess is also home to Gene Williams, a major player in the Nashville scene. Wilson currently hosts a concert series, featuring a variety of musicians. Osceola has ties to a variety of blues musicians, including Albert King, Son Seals, and the annual Osceola Heritage MusicFest is a weekend of rock, blues, country and folk on the courthouse lawn. Blytheville is the home of the oldest radio station west of the Mississippi River, which played some of the biggest musicians while they were still unknowns pushing for the chance for airtime. Blytheville also hosts an annual Mayfest event with music and fun for the family.

We boast some of the best options for those that enjoy the great outdoors. Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Manila boasts natural beauty, fishing and hunting. Just south of Osceola, Sans Souci Park is arguably the best Mississippi River outlook in Arkansas. It boasts an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission ramp for boat fishing access, several picnic pavilions to enjoy a picnic with near panoramic view of the Mighty Mississippi. In Blytheville, we have the relaxing Walker Park where you can enjoy a walk or feed the geese. Options for golf are also abundant in Mississippi County, with the Osceola Municipal Golf Course, Blytheville Country Club, Thunder Bayou and Big Lake Country Club.

History buffs also have many things to pique their interest. Throughout the county, we have over 30 buildings and sites on the National Register of Historic Places, 36 Cotton Highway historical markers in the southern half of the county alone, plus numerous others with historical significance. We also have the Mississippi County Historic and Genealogical Society Museum in Osceola, Hampson Archaeological Museum and State Park in Wilson and the Delta Gateway Museum in downtown Blytheville. Sans Souci Park, mentioned above, is also the site the Battle of Plum Run Bend, one of only two Civil War gunboat battles. Herman Davis Memorial State Park in Manila honors Private Herman Davis, a native who is considered one of the top heroes of World War I. Bassett was the site of a World War II POW camp, where Germans were housed and taught to work with agriculture. The gates to the camp still stand along Highway 61.

Families are more than welcome in Mississippi County. Both Blytheville and Osceola feature wonderful

sports complexes with baseball fields that feature year-round team sports. Manila is now the site of a public access water park. Playgrounds are a part of several parks, including Walker Park in Blytheville, Florida Park in Osceola and Hampson State Park in Wilson. Blytheville also has a roller-skating rink and bowling alley for your enjoyment.

We have a great selection of dining and shopping opportunities throughout the county. For unique finds, check the shops of Downtown Blytheville, Downtown Osceola, or on the beautiful square in Wilson.

For the literary fan, Sans Souci also inspired Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. Or travel to the infamous That Bookstore in Blytheville to browse an eclectic collection of works. You might get lucky and meet the up and coming author, or sometimes famous writers such as John Grisham.

The next big trend in tourism is agritourism, and we have that too. You can be anywhere in our county and be within 10 minutes of a horizon of cotton fields and breathtaking sunsets that will rival anywhere in our country. Whitton Farms in Whitton offers informative visits to their organic farm, which supplies local residents and at least two restaurants with quality fresh produce. Adams Gin in Leachville is the world's largest cotton gin. Just a little beyond our county border is Tyronza, which is the site of the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum.

As you can see, when all put together, we have a pretty impressive slate to offer. Trip to the moon? No. A great place to make memories for a few days or a lifetime? Absolutely.

Many people say that perception is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome when attracting tourists or new residents to our area. Unfortunately, the hard truth is that often the negative perception is not created by outsiders looking in, but is instead incubated within our residents. We have a variety of truly unique and interesting destinations in Mississippi County, but it is not the amenities or beauty or history that makes or breaks our perception. As citizens, leaders, parents, friends, family and media, only WE are responsible for the impression that people have on our communities. We hope and encourage others to see that we really do have a lot to offer as a county, and help spread the community pride to those interested in the area, or more importantly, to those that are already here.