Archives for September 2013

Celebrate Seafood and Covered Bridges

I’m looking forward to a festival-filled fall weekend in Champaign and Union counties.

I invite you to join me at the Ohio Fish and Shrimp Festival at Freshwater Farms of Ohio, just north of Urbana, and the Covered Bridge Bluegrass Festival in Union County – both Friday through Saturday, September 20-22. Click on the links for details.Ohio Fish & Shrimp Frestival logo

Both feature a hearty selection of live music and good food — and lots of family fun.

Not Your Average Harvest Festival

An unusual fall harvest celebration for Ohio, the Fish and Shrimp Festival marks Freshwater Farm’s annual freshwater shrimp harvest with lots of mouth-watering locally grown shrimp, as well as trout grown on the farm, too.

Shrimp at Ohio Fish and Shrimp FestivalMusic on the outdoor stage includes folk, blues, country, rock, reggae — and steel drum. Other features include a shrimp peeling and eating contest, games, self-guided tours of the farm, displays of native aquatic creatures, a chance to pet Ohio’s largest native fish, the sturgeon, and the debut of a new habitat for the farm’s resident alligator, Fluffy, who made a surprise appearance at the festival three years ago, delivered by sheriff’s deputies after they caught her in a local pond.

A Festival That Has It All Covered

Covered Bridge and Bluegrass Festival

The Muleskinners Bluegrass Band will perform at the Covered Bridge Bluegrass Festival.

Union County’s historic covered bridges set the theme for the Covered Bridge Bluegrass Festival. One of  the bridges, the Pottersburg Bridge at 17141 Inskeep-Cratty Rd., North Lewisburg, will serve as the festival’s centerpiece and the setting for an elegant sunset dinner, a breakfast and a church service. The bridge also will serve as  the stage for a variety of bluegrass bands and folk musicians.

Other festival features include guided bridge tours, a pie baking contest and auction, a marketplace of antiques and local artists’ work, painting classes, a vintage fashion show, old-fashioned games for kids, horse drawn wagon rides, appearances by folk artist Billy Jacobs and a concert by Nashville bluegrass band the Banjo Cats.

See you out and about this weekend.

Champaign County’s $60 Million Business

This summer my son Alex got to talk with people from New York to the state of Washington. Not to mention people from other parts of the world like Russia, Norway and the United Kingdom.

And he traveled a mere dozen miles from our house in Urbana, Ohio, to his summer job, guiding tours at Ohio Caverns.

I bring this up because we locals often take for granted the treasures in our own backyard.

Ohio Caverns, Champaign County, Ohio

My son Alex guiding a tour this summer at Ohio Caverns.

Plus we don’t fully grasp the economic value to our community of visitors who take an interest in what we’ve got around us, or under our feet. It’s bigger business than most of us probably imagine.

$40 billion. That’s how much money visitors leave behind in Ohio each year.

$60 million. That was Champaign County’s share in 2011, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency – $45.6 million in visitors’ purchases, $11.5 million in wages for visitor-related jobs and $5.8 million in taxes paid by visitors.

Melinda Huntley, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association, shared those figures in a recent presentation, “Tourism Is Everybody’s Business,” hosted by the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

Her message: All businesses – not just those commonly considered tourist-related – benefit from attracting and welcoming visitors to Champaign County.

Opportunity to Grow

And with a more concentrated, cooperative effort, Champaign County’s income from tourism could easily be greater.

Huntley offered an example: Lake Erie lighthouses once promoted their sites individually. Then they banded together to market cooperatively, and their attendance climbed.

A similar situation is already happening in Champaign County. The 20 antique and vintage shops in downtown Urbana promote one another through Antique & Vintage Shops of Urbana.

United, they provide shoppers and visitors more choices, which has ended up convincing more people from the Dayton and Columbus metro areas to make shopping excursions to Urbana.

(And here’s how we’re collaborating with neighboring counties.)

Another key to increasing tourism is developing more overnight accommodations so visitors can stay longer and experience more of what Champaign County has to offer – to name a few examples, Ohio Caverns, Cedar Bog nature preserve, the Champaign Aviation Museum, agritourism attractions like Freshwater Farms of Ohio, the Simon Kenton Trail bike path (which stretches south to Cincinnati and soon will be headed north), and a wide range of special events, restaurants and shopping.

How to Get Involved

The Champaign County Visitors Bureau is focused on growing our tourism economy. If you’d like to join the effort, contact Sandi Arnold, executive director of the Chamber and Visitors Bureau – 937-653-5764 or She’s looking for new members to join the Visitor Bureau’s advisory group, chaired by Pat Thackery.

How do you suggest attracting more visitors to Champaign County?