Originally created 06/30/00

Tourism to detour travelers



A bunch of grown-ups picked up markers and scribbled together Wednesday at Quality Suites conference center. Their assignment: to color outside the lines.

The picture they are coloring is of a development corridor - stretching from Charleston to St. Augustine, Fla. - that will detour travelers off Interstate 95 to attractions in the South Carolina woods, the Georgia back roads and the small Florida islands along their way. The corridor could include a network of signs marketing the sites along the route.

But the state and county lines that cross these places cannot be a factor in creating the corridor, along U.S. Highway 17 and Florida route A1A.

The 65 town government, chamber of commerce, tourism and University of Georgia officials at the meeting are the visionaries. Their combined vision - and money - will create the corridor, once its character has been decided, said Vernon Martin, executive director of the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center.

The isolating speed and blandness of I-95 gets travelers through Georgia quickly, but without showing off the state's best natural resources and attractions, Mr. Martin said.

"It's not about, in this instance, creating growth. It's about creating outside income," he said. "When (tourists) can get through Georgia in about an hour, there's a lot of missed opportunities."

The group will try not to repeat past tourism mistakes, in which tourism actually hurt the cultural and historical attractions along U.S. 17, said Marquetta L. Goodwine. She is the national spokeswoman - "Queen Quet" - for the Gullah-Geechee people of South Carolina's Sea Islands.

Tourists "stayed and they decided to build gates and block people out," Ms. Goodwine said. "What we're hoping is to be at the tape and be a part of the economic development and empowerment that is going to be coming" with the corridor.

The people at this week's meeting - and the meetings that will follow - want local communities to again draw tourists into the history and culture that once thrived along the roads that branch out from I-95, said David Smalls of the Walterboro-Colleton, S.C., Chamber of Commerce.

"Before I-95, some other small towns used to be popular and they dried up," Mr. Smalls said. "Big cities (along I-95) are destination points. How do we compete with that?"

Asking the right questions is the immediate goal of the group. Solutions will come much later. The group's next meeting is in October in South Carolina.

For now, the group is working on communication and promoting the three-state group, rather than their personal agendas, Ms. Goodwine said.

"This project will ensure that none of our moms and pops and grandmothers and grandfathers who have held onto our stories will be left out," she said.

About the project

The development corridor would stretch along U.S. Highway 17 and Florida's Route A1A - from Charleston to St. Augustine, Fla. It runs alongside Interstaet 95 and passes through more than 30 cities and 18 counties. The project includes representatives from government, economic development, university and tourism groups within the corridor. The goals of the project are:

1. To develop major new heritage tourism destinations that will create an economic impact for their communities.

2. Enhance existing heritage tourism destinations.

3. Develop partnerships among local and regional communities, organizations and government agencies to create a common vision for the corridor.

4. Improve and expand the communities along the corridor.

5. Enhance the economies of those communities within the corridor.