Georgia’s history and its booming tourism industry could be intertwined again, if state and community officials are successful in their plans.
The Effingham Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted a planning meeting Tuesday at New Ebenezer Retreat Center on a proposed 13th Colony Trail that would link sites, attractions and other historic places of interest from Georgia’s early years.
“We are very excited and supportive of what the private groups and local governments are doing,” said Bruce Green, the tourism product development director for Georgia’s Department of Economic Development. “We’re excited about the opportunity to market these attractions and sites. It’s an exciting project. It really is.”
The first concept meeting for the 13th Colony Trail was held in Washington in January, and a planning meeting was held in Sylvania in February.
The trail, if it is established, likely would be 325 miles long, from Elbert County in northeast Georgia to Camden County.
“It’s a huge area,” Green said. “The commonality is the story of the 13th colony.”
The state is providing technical assistance to the communities and groups, which include the Georgia Society Sons of the American Revolution.
“We want to help communities understand their sometimes hidden and forgotten cultural attractions,” Green said.
The backbone of the trail is two highways, U.S. 17 and Georgia 17, that cut through some of the oldest counties in the state. The period of history involved likely will run from 1733, when Gen. James Oglethorpe landed in what is now Savannah, and 1820. The latter year was chosen because that’s when the Federal architectural style replaced the Colonial style.
What’s needed now for the trail is an organizational structure and a plan to identify possible target attractions.
“It just needs to be organized — how do you make this thing rock and roll,” Green said.
Communities along the possible trail are being asked to identify and put together information on pertinent sites and attractions. Effingham Visitors and Convention Bureau representatives pointed out the county’s many such sites from that designated period, from the Ebenezer settlement to the Old Augusta Road and Spencer’s Tavern to Gov. John Adam Treutlen’s plantation near Clyo, among others.
Such an inventory of sites is expected to include churches, battlefields, historic houses, museums and cemeteries dating to before 1820.
“When you get on the trail, you have to make it easier on the visitor,” Green said. “You can’t sell the total concept until you know what you’ve got.”
Green said money from the state’s OneGeorgia Authority could be available, but the 13th Colony Trail isn’t organized enough to ask for it.
Carey Ferrara of the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center said there is strength in numbers for local groups to get together on the trail.
“You have more clout with the consumer,” she said.
Ferrara also said being able to collaborate and put the information on one Web site also will help.
“If they can go to one central place, that’s a really huge benefit to the consumer,” she said.
Tourism is a $30 billion a year industry in the state, ranking behind agriculture in terms of economic impact. It is responsible for 220,000 jobs in Georgia and heritage tourists are different from other tourists, Green said. They travel more often, they stay longer and they spend more. Also, four in 10 will extend their trips if there are historic or cultural attractions to see.
Green also implored interested parties to learn the fit between tourism and community.
“People will get on that trail and stay on it,” he said. “It’s what they experience along the way.”