McDonald highlights Cumberland County tourism – past and present

CROSSVILLE – While the main thrust of economic development efforts currently surround industry and manufacturing jobs, Cumberland County continues to maintain a strong tourism economy – something it’s had success with for decades.

While Cumberland County is known as the “Golf Capital of Tennessee,” the great outdoors is making a big comeback, too. It’s even a good place for a “social brew.”

One man who knows a lot about area tourism – the present as well as the past – is Glenn McDonald. McDonald has served for many years on the Convention and Visitors Bureau and as vice chair of the tourism/retiree relocation committee.

McDonald is a real estate broker for First Realty in Crossville as well as an auctioneer. You might think he’d be a fast talker – given that latter profession – but not when he talks about tourism. McDonald has a lot to say, and he wants to make sure you hear it all.

Using a broad definition for a tourist, McDonald described that as “someone who comes here and spends money.” And spend money they do. Cumberland County ranked second in the Upper Cumberland and 19th out of 95 counties in Tennessee in tourism spending in 2015. Visitors dolled out $112.3 million, which generated $22.9 million in tourist-related payroll, 950 jobs and some $4.78 million in local tax revenues.

According to McDonald, golf continues to be a big draw especially at Fairfield Glad and Lake Tansi. In addition, sports tournaments bring a lot of tourists to Crossville to play baseball, softball and soccer. The recent Tennessee Women’s championship brought in bowlers every weekend in March, and a proposed Shooting Sports Park now in the works should also add to the coffers as well.

The place McDonald recommended to start a visit is the Crossville-Cumberland County Gateway to the Big South Fork Visitor Center – newly minted in 2014. The center carries snacks and drinks, T-shirts, postcards and gift items and carries information on Crossville, Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area and other Upper Cumberland attractions and events.

“A lot of your visitors coming here are coming to Fairfield, the timeshare people, and a big number of them come by the visitor center to find out what is local and things that are going on here,” he said. “A lot of visitors check out downtown, the Palace Theatre and the Social Brew,” an informal beer tasting business that specializes in local and area craft beers. “You’d be surprised at the number of people that hit the Social Brew,” McDonald added.

McDonald said outdoor activities are bringing more and more to town, natural attractions like Ozone Falls, Black Mountain and Cumberland Trail State Park, even the lesser known Meadow Park Lake. “That part of local tourism seems to be coming back around full circle,” McDonald said. In the early days of Cumberland County tourism, the great outdoors was the major draw including fishing, hiking and the area’s scenery.

The Cumberland County Playhouse also still remains a big draw bringing in visitors for the past 50 years. Those visits more often then not include a meal and a tank of gas before tourists head back. Busloads of visitors come to the playhouse and often visit the growing number of downtown Crossville shops and restaurants during their day on the Plateau.

Cumberland County is also the only county with two wineries – Stonehaus and Chestnut Hill – on the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail.

The storyteller came out in McDonald as he talked about some of the creative ways they used to promote tourism locally. He said they made an arrangement with the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) and a trooper would pull over a car with out-of-state plates and present them with a certificate for an overnight stay in Crossville and breakfast the next morning. Members of the tourism committee would meet the couple for breakfast the next morning to get information and take a photo. One morning the couple was just not that interested in getting their photo made and sent to their hometown paper for publicity because, as it turned out, they were married, just not to each other.

McDonald said that was the last time they used the THP.