Editor’s Note: Vacation Local


Cherokee Rock Village/by Greg McCary

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It might sound like an oxymoron, but odds are places in your own region offer experiences that rival those requiring a much longer trip.

During the previews at a movie theatre several years ago, I had the out-of-body-like experience of watching a tourism video about the city where I had lived for 10 years. Not only was it strange to see familiar scenes and hear descriptions of the town from an outsider’s perspective, but I also realized with some astonishment that I hadn’t visited many of the places highlighted – and hadn’t even heard of some of them.

It’s a peculiar trait of human nature that many of us seem to assume taking advantage of quality leisure and recreation opportunities necessitates a significant journey.

George Fox, manager of Chesnut Bay Resort, a popular family vacation spot on Weiss Lake in Cherokee County, Alabama, says that while the resort draws people from all over the nation, it doesn’t get many visitors from Alabama or anywhere close by. For some reason, people feel like they need to drive at least three or four hours and leave their own state in order to have a “real” vacation, he tells me.

If you don’t live near Lookout Mountain, chances are Chattanooga and Tennessee come to mind when you think of this area. John Dersham, president and chief executive of DeKalb Tourism in Alabama, says people come into the tourism center every week thinking they are in Tennessee.

During the past two decades, the city of Chattanooga, a nonprofit called River City Company and other organizations have done a phenomenal job of not only nurturing tourism attractions and creating a tourist district, but also of promoting the city and Lookout Mountain as tourism destinations. The Chattanooga area does indeed offer a wealth of intriguing activities and venues, from the Tennessee Aquarium and Incline Railway to Ruby Falls and Rock City. (See an article on Chattanooga’s Jump Park.)

pub2_W14Due partly to the success of Chattanooga’s marketing efforts, many people don’t realize the vast majority of Lookout Mountain lies in northwest Georgia (31 miles) and northeast Alabama (50 miles), not Tennessee (3 miles).

The Lookout Mountain area of Alabama and Georgia also offers breathtaking scenery, myriad opportunities for outdoor recreation and cultural education and exposure to talented artists and musicians. The area’s many caves (see story), Cloudland Canyon, Little River Canyon and Cherokee Rock Village are among the natural wonders, and you can try glass blowing at Orbix Hot Glass, snow skiing at Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort and so much more.

Tourism has long been an objective in northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia as well, but until recently it has been a secondary industry, with textiles, coal and iron production, agriculture, manufacturing and metalworking more often taking center stage. Perhaps that’s also why so many people, even in cities such as Birmingham, Huntsville and Atlanta that are less than a two hours’ drive away, are unaware of what this area offers.

But efforts are underway to change this – and we at Lookout Alabama are proud to be part of them as we share stories of people, places and attractions throughout the Lookout Mountain area.

In Alabama and Georgia, restaurants, attractions and adventures are more spread out and might not be as easy to find, but they are definitely here – and discovering them can be very rewarding. You aren’t likely to find crowds, so interactions with nature are more authentic, and you’ll receive more individualized attention from hosts and guides.

We’ve all heard the admonition to “shop local” and the litany of benefits that entails: supporting jobs and economic wellbeing in your community, reducing negative environmental impacts, etc. Vacationing in your own region carries many of the same advantages.

Plus, when you inevitably meet someone who’s visited your part of the country as a tourist, you won’t be forced to admit, “I, um… haven’t been there,” when he or she brings up a spectacular attraction in your own backyard.

Olivia Grider