Bradley County makes an estimated $112 million in tourism revenue every year with $8.5 million in local and state sales tax.
Melissa Woody, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, told Kiwanis members tourism has a positive impact on Cleveland and Bradley County residents.
“Each household experiences about $230 worth of savings each year because of what our visitors spend,” Woody said.
“When you go to Hilton Head or Disney World, you pay a lodging pass or you spend money there and you help them support everything taxes pay for. That is the same thing our visitors do for us.”
An analysis conducted every year on the impact of tourism on Tennessee counties often ranks Bradley at 13 or 14.
“We are all about attracting people to our county so they can enjoy what we have to offer and spend a little money while they are here,” Woody said.
One of the main attractions offered by Bradley County is the Cherokee heritage sites. Several hot attractions include the Cherokee National Forest, Red Clay State Park and the Museum Center at 5ive Points. An additional tourism gold mine is the Ocoee area. Many visitors stay in Cleveland due to the closeness and amenities offered.
Woody said part of her job is to promote or create products people can interact with or consume while visiting. She markets the entire downtown area as a full package when discussing the museum center. Charming shops, local restaurants and Five Points are all recognized.
Her recent project has been to cultivate the potential in Charleston.
“There is a story in the northern part of our county which is not being told at all,” Woody said. “If there were not any markers at Chickamauga or Gettysburg, would you have any idea what had happened there? It is pretty much rolling fields, grass and some wooded areas. If you were just passing by, you would not know what has happened there.”
Continued Woody, “That is basically what is happening in Charleston, Tenn.”
She said Charleston was the military operational headquarters for the entire Trail of Tears operation.
“It was called Fort Cass. It was named after the current secretary of war, and it was a military operational base that was a collection of encampments stretching about 40 miles from Charleston,” Woody said. “There are estimates there could have been from 9,000 to 15,000 Cherokee gathered there at one time.”
There are currently no signs in the Charleston area to inform visitors and residents of the city’s Fort Cass days.
Woody said one of the reasons the story has not been told is because it is hard to tell.
“You settle on your land, get the land lotto going and never speak of it again,” Woody said. “That results in a piece of American history which will be lost, if we don’t do something about it.”
A plan of attack was organized through a series of community meetings. Two of the steps include creating a Heritage Center in Charleston and connecting the Greenway to a river park at the Hiwassee River.
“On that greenway you are walking in the steps of history. You are walking beside the federal agency that served the Cherokee and beside the headquarters of Fort Cass,” Woody said. “And we know there are other stories to tell.”
These stories include the Civil War and something as small as the cowpea. The first will be showcased in the Bradley County 150th Civil War Anniversary “Our Place in History” events. The second culminated in the International Cowpea Festival and Cookoff.
For more information on recreational activities in Bradley County contact the Chamber at (423) 472-6587 or by going to www.clevelandchamber.com.