LANETT — The hundreds of out-of-state visitors who stop by the Alabama Welcome Center each day were treated to old-fashioned Southern hospitality, free food and live entertainment Thursday.
May is National Tourism Month, and as part of this celebration, each of Alabama’s eight visitor centers hosts a Tourism Day during the month. The Sumter County Visitor Center on I-20/59 had its Tourism Day on May 1, Cleburne County on I-20 had its day on May 2, and the County Visitor Center of Houston near the Florida line had its day on May 9.
Thursday, May 15 was Lanett’s turn. The Welcome Center staff led by Laura Smith went above and beyond to make in-state visitors feel special. There was something for everyone.
Deputy Chief Richard Carter grilled about 750 hot dogs for those who stopped by, and Donna Bond and Brittany Boatman of Sunny’s Restaurant, Valley, had Southern treats like cabbage, cucumber slaw and sweetbreads with raisins ready to serve. Pizzas, chicken fingers and Coke products were available.
John Lott did classic country/rock karaoke. Melinda Edwards from the reception center staff sang a well-received duet with him. The large crowd in front of the center and those coming and going joined in singing “Sweet Home Alabama”.
The Lee County Whistle Stop Pickers were there to play old music on dulcimers. Deborah McCord is the spokesperson for the musicians. Her husband, Allen McCord, has four dulcimers, one of which he made from a black walnut tree that grew in their yard. The bridge and the pegs are carved from deer antler. It is a special instrument. When Allen isn’t playing it, it’s on display in a display case at the Loachapoka Museum.
Other Pickers playing Thursday were Steve Chun, Mike Thurman, Beverly Sandberg, Amanda Borden and Lee Borden.
When the Pickers have a jamming session, all kinds of instruments come together to make the sound of primitive America. In addition to dulcimers, guitars, banjos, autoharps, fiddles, bass fiddles and penny whistles join them.
“Our mission is to carry on the tradition of early music,” McCord said.
Members of the group are supporters of the Lee County Historical Society. They frequently play inside the LCHS museum in Loachapoka.
Most of the counties in east central Alabama were represented at the booths set up on the grounds of the Welcome Center. Executive Director Carrie Royster and Tarin Parrish of the Greater Valley Region Chamber of Commerce donated a variety of items bearing the GVACC and “Strength Woven In” logos. They included koozies, hand sanitizer, lip balm, hand wipes, pens and golf tees.
Leisel and Holly Caldwell, a mother and daughter from Wedowee, were there to promote Lake Wedowee Life magazine and its associated publication, Alabama Small Towns and Downtowns. The latest issue features articles on the best places for birdwatching, the flower movement in Alabama, shopping destinations in Alabama’s small towns, and how the Old Waters Inn went from an eyesore to a new business. which has helped revitalize downtown Wedowee.
Sandra Fuller was there to talk to people in Tallapoosa County and the Lake Martin area. With over 800 miles of shoreline and a great reputation for fishing and aquatic pleasures, Lake Martin is a very powerful tourist attraction.
“We have a songwriter festival that draws a lot of people,” Fuller said.
Last year’s festival attracted 17 well-known songwriters for a five-night, ten-venue event at the end of August.
The Harold Banks Canoe Trail is a popular destination for those who enjoy outdoor adventures. It is especially popular in May when the Cahaba lilies are in bloom. The trail is divided into three sections, with the first starting in northwest Chambers County at Bibby’s Ferry. This is an 8.25 mile, five hour float that ends at Germany’s Ferry. The second section begins at Germany’s Ferry and heads south for approximately 9.75 miles. It takes about six hours to make public access to the Horseshoe Bend Bridge. The final section is considered by many to be the most scenic. It travels about six miles, taking about six hours to reach the opposite end. It begins at the Horseshoe Bend Bridge and ends at Jay Bird Creek Public Access. The third section has more Cahaba lily spots and has more frequent sightings of bald eagles.
An upcoming event on Lake Martin that anglers are really excited about is a chance to catch a tagged fish that can win major cash prizes. The competition started on April 1 and will run until July 4. Several hundred fish have been tagged, and anyone who enters the contest and catches one or more tagged fish is eligible for a prize. There is a fish in Lake Martin that is worth a million dollars to the fisherman who catches it.
Leigh Ann Lovell, Assistant General Manager, and Zachary Whatley, Human Resources Assistant of Hampton Inn by Hilton, Auburn, were on hand at Tourism Day to talk about the lodging industry in Lee County. Auburn Hospitality is now hiring for locations such as Auburn Lodge near the university, Candlewood, Hampton Inn, LaQuinta Inn & Suites, two Holiday Inn Express locations, and Microtel Inn & Suites and Comfort Suites, both in Columbus.
Positions available include Receptionist, Laundry Attendant, Maintenance Technician, Night Auditor, Breakfast Attendant, Room Attendant, Housekeeper, and Assistant General Manager.
Lynne Haven, sales manager for the Lanett Hampton Inn & Suites, said business remained steady at the hotel. He does especially well on weekends when Auburn hosts football games or when a major tournament is taking place at the Valley Sportsplex. There’s a senior softball tournament there this weekend.
During the lunch hour, Lanett Police Chief Johnny Wood took the microphone to welcome everyone to Lanett Tourism Day.
“On behalf of Mayor Jamie Heard and Lanett City Council, I welcome you here today,” he said. “Thank you for being here. We believe this new Visitor Center is a model for the entire state. I invite you to check it all out. The Visitor Center staff can tell you anything you want to know about the state of Alabama. If you ask them something they don’t easily know, they can quickly look it up for you.
Visitor Center Manager Laura Smith thanked the Lanett Police Department for their continued support of the Visitor Center.
“We thank them for the support and protection they are so good at providing,” she said. “We also thank our DOT employees. We couldn’t do anything without them.
The Alabama Department of Transportation has an office on the grounds of the Visitor Center. It is busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
They see that the toilets are open and are there in case of an emergency.