Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways features 16 regional trails, one of which, the Promised Land Trail, runs through Wilson County, she told the crowd.
She presented a video promoting the new program that featured some of the people, food and places that can be found in Tennessee that was done with the accompaniment of country group Rascal Flatts singing their hit song, “Life is a Highway.”
The video was applauded by the crowd as Whitaker asked, “You ready to take your trip now? Don’t we live in the coolest state there is?” Whitaker noted the importance of tourism dollars spent in the state which benefits many other things here, especially education. Part of the money from sales taxes paid by visitors to Tennessee when they buy barbecue in Memphis, a CD by their favorite music star in Nashville, an antique from one of the shops on the historic Square in Lebanon, visit the Knoxville Zoo, spend a day at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge or stay at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel goes to education in the state.
As Whitaker noted, Tennessee does not have an income tax so funds for state services must come from elsewhere. The impact of tourism in Tennessee will have an economic impact of $14 billion, she said, adding that tourism had an impact of $10.8 billion in 2003. Some states have seen fewer visitors during the economic downturn, but due to efforts made across Tennessee to attract tourists – both out of state and in state – which has garnered national attention, Tennessee is among the top 10 states that tourists visit.
“That’s where Tennessee should be,” the commissioner noted. “If we don’t get the word out, we will not have the dollars to do other things.”
Whitaker praised the efforts of Ricky Rodriguez, director of the Wilson County Convention & Visitors Bureau, to spread the word about Wilson County has to offer, and also thanked the county’s state legislators, State Reps. Stratton Bone, D-Lebanon, and Susan Lynn, R-Lebanon, and State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, for their work to make sure the department received the funds it needed so officials could tell everyone what Tennessee offers.
“We really have had that support. They make sure tourism is funded at a high enough level to get the word out.” She also noted that tourists are coming to Wilson County and spending their money, as well. People from other states and other counties in Tennessee have an increasing number of places to shop, eat and stay when they come to Wilson County.
Not only does Wilson host the state’s largest county fair each year, it also hosts NASCAR races three times a year at the Superspeedway which regularly attracts a large crowd. The Square in Lebanon is well known for its antique shops and Watertown has in recent years become a center for arts and also hosts two large yard sales each year.
Tourism this past year was up 6 percent in Wilson County and had an economic impact of $102 million here, Whitaker said. The Promised Land Trail is so named because the first settlers who traveled from the northeastern part of Tennessee, through the Cumberland Plateau to Nashville, followed the first road into the state called Avery Trace, according to the state’s 2010 Official Vacation Guide. Many of those settlers thought they were traveling to a “promised land.” That trail follows Highway 70 which goes through the middle of Wilson County.
Whitaker is a native of Chicago, Ill. and is a direct descendant of Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier. A Republican, she was appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen to serve as commissioner in 2003 and was reappointed in 2007.
For more information on tourism in Tennessee, visit www.tnvacation.com. For more information about Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways, visit www.tntrailsandbyways.com. Editor Jennifer Horton may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.