The City of Sweetwater in many ways paved the way educating much of East Tennessee about the 2017 total solar eclipse and the city certainly seized the rare celestial event and made it an economic windfall for the community.
On Friday, the Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council honored the city with the Tourism Trailblazer Award at the Excellence in Tourism Awards and East Tennessee Legislative luncheon at the Change Center in Knoxville.
Sweetwater was honored for its Solar Eclipse Festival held during the Aug. 21, 2017 total solar eclipse
Mayor Doyle Lowe, City Commissioner Lamar Hughes, City Recorder Jessica Morgan, City Planner Chuck Whited, Sonya Crush and Hayley Isbill all from the City of Sweetwater attended the event and were joined by State Rep. Lowell Russell, who represents much of Monroe County in the 21 Tennessee House District in Nashville.
Julie Graham is the executive director of the Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council.
“Tourism is the second largest industry in Tennessee, second only to agriculture,” Graham stated. “In small, rural communities, the impact is quite large.
Several festivals were honored from Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council area and the special award was given to Sweetwater for its efforts promoting and capitalizing on the eclipse.
“Sweetwater really deserves a special award,” the judging panel said.
City officials say at least 25,000 people visited Sweetwater to watch the eclipse.
The judging panel pointed out Sweetwater brought in far more money than it spent on the festival and used those proceeds to benefit the community. The city was able to pave a downtown parking lot, landscape downtown, lease land for the Main Street Marketplace along with erecting a special clock to commemorate the eclipse placed at the Visitors Center downtown.
“This was a great day for Sweetwater, to have an award created to recognize the unique efforts involved in the Eclipse Festival,” Lowe said. “We’re grateful to the Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council for the recognition. We are so proud of all the employees, volunteers, and organizations that cooperated to make the festival a success. We will see the impact of that event for years to come. We want Sweetwater’s tourism activities and events to continue to thrive and we have some more exciting things in the pipeline like the Blooms, Bluegrass, & BBQ festival coming in May.”
Tourism experts speaking at the Friday event said East Tennessee is a tourism draw due to its great natural beauty and all the outdoor activities. But they also noted, a community’s festivals, shops, restaurants and other attractions can be a big draw as well. The City of Sweetwater is planning the new festival Lowe sited, Blooms, Bluegrass & BBQ, on May 3-4 downtown.
Tourism officials stressed that one of the most important things a community can do to boost tourism is to keep its surroundings clean. They noted strong code enforcement is key because visitors won’t return to a unappealing community.
Sweetwater has worked hard under the direction of Kassie Kelley-Watson to get tour buses to come to Sweetwater. A bus of 40 travelers will come from Ontario, Canada, on June. 22. The first tour booked last week after she attended the annual Tour Bus Owners Conference. Other companies have appointments to visit Sweetwater as well.
Fort Loudoun State Historic Area in Vonore was also nominated in the Annual/Festival Event Category with budgets less than $10,000. That category was won by a festival in Morgan County.