Tourism's Success Takes Simple Path Corridors Help Rural Areas Thrive

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ANDERSON, S.C. -- There's no sign on South Carolina 187 directing travelers to the nearby dirt road that leads into Split Creek Farm.

But lately, more and more visitors are finding their way to the 35-acre spread where Evin Evans raises 350 dairy goats and sells goat cheese, goat's milk, fudge and soap out of a small gift shop.

Some tourists arrive clutching a new brochure listing sites of interest in Anderson County. The flier bears the logo of the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, a program that has begun to attract attention in Georgia tourism-promotion circles.

For years, Evans has relied to a great extent on mail orders to sell her products. But with the added visibility the corridor is bringing to the farm, she said that is starting to change.

"It doesn't make a difference to someone in Hilton Head," she said. "But the retail sales, the people coming down my driveway, are definitely a result of the corridor."

The South Carolina corridor, which has received $1.6 million in federal funds since its designation by Congress in 1996, is the outgrowth of a strategy within the tourism industry to draw more visitors to rural areas and small towns off the path of traditional vacation hot spots.

Such communities often are rich with historic, cultural or scenic resources that make them well positioned to take advantage of the growing popularity of heritage and nature-based tourism. Many also are plagued with low income levels and high unemployment, in desperate need of an economic boost.

They also need public awareness of what they have to offer, which is where a program like the South Carolina corridor can step in.

"We don't have to spend a lot of time educating people about Charleston," said Mark Wagnon, program coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism's Heritage Tourism Development Office.

"But if they're going down to Charleston, maybe we can lead them to Summerville or Walterboro for a day trip to see what's around."

Heritage and nature corridors have criss-crossed Georgia for a few years, from the Chieftains Trail linking American Indian historical sites in Northwest Georgia to the Altamaha River Trail in the southeastern corner of the state.

But the concept is just starting to gain serious momentum, and tourism officials say the timing couldn't be better.

The Travel Industry Association of America conducted a "confidence" survey for the first time this year and found that some Americans are wary of spending their summer vacations in big cities in the wake of September's terrorist attacks.

The association is predicting a decline in travel to urban areas this summer, while visits to historic sites and campgrounds are expected to rise, spokeswoman Cathy Keefe said.

"People are making conscious decisions to go to out-of-the-way places," she said. …