Let's reel 'em in, naturally

The potential for growing tourism dollars is seen in the 40 fish landed in 50 minutes by Robert Bradburn's group boating on Thurmond Lake.


A recent picture of the group, published in Bill Baab's fishing column June 12, is worth more than words. It's worth thousands of visitors who infuse our local economy with millions of dollars.

In May, Augusta was the site of the 2009 Georgia Outdoor Writers Association conference, a small but significant event that brought journalists from throughout the state. They visited our lakes and river, and shared information about Georgia's great outdoors. And we do have some great areas.

These moments result in natural promotion of our region.

Recently, the Greater Augusta Sports Council and the city pulled in a nice fish, too. The International Mountain Bicycling Association World Summit chose Augusta as its 2010 host site. Some 500 cyclists from around the world will traverse our area -- perusing curio shops and feasting to fuel their rides on the Forks Area Trail System in Sumter National Forest.

All these moments work together. They are bait for each other, and their collective impact can only improve our region and help lure even larger conventions.

But you can't land the big fish without the right equipment. Ask any fisherman. We still don't have a boat big enough to land major car shows and industry expos. We lack the 2005 voter-approved TEE center, still lost in the thick weeds of politics.

We compete very well with other areas in terms of hotel space, restaurants and the extracurricular activities for conventioneers, explains Augusta city administrator Fred Russell. We lack the 40,000 square feet of open space. Frankly, we wouldn't be surprised if another part of the region moved ahead with such a worthwhile project while we are stuck in the mud.

What a shame if Augusta is left talking about the one that got away.

The bounty in the Thurmond Lake photo and the recent headlines about our wonderful outdoors paint a bright picture of the potential for tourism. These events should help inspire our Augusta commissioners to put aside divisive conversation and cast their lines to reel in more tourism and economic development dollars.

What picture do we want our visitors to take home?