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Developing a vision for the future

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By Vince Luecke

I suspect I'm not alone in occasionally pondering what Perry County may look like one or two decades from now.

A recent meeting of the Perry County Convention and Visitors Bureau, reported on the front page of Thursday's News, sparked my imagination yet again with discussion of how the county's location in the state and its good highways give it advantages in attracting tourists.

Bev Minto, director of the CVB, pointed out what should be obvious: Perry County is at the crossroads of major north-south and east-west corridors that make it easy not only for Perry County residents to travel somewhere else, but for residents of other areas to find us.

Our national forests, the Ohio River and smaller lakes offer outdoor opportunities few other communities can equal and we have history-rich communities in Cannelton, Troy and Tell City.

Tourism offers important benefits. Travelers coming here to hunt, fish, boat or visit attractions leave behind their dollars, for lodging, food, gas and souvenirs. They support businesses we rely on and that provide jobs.

I have no doubt tourism will be a major growth industry in years to come. Not only does our county have so much natural beauty, but it offers unique architecture in its churches and the Indiana Cotton Mill and we have the Christ of the Ohio, the Celtic cross near Rocky Point and the Huffman Mill bridge.

There are ways we could better promote tourism in the county. One important one would be to construct a visitor's center near the intersection of Interstate 64 and Indiana 37.

A small building, perhaps staffed part time, could offer maps of the county and literature on places to see. While we certainly have visitors who travel into the county from Kentucky or Indiana 66 from Spencer County, many out-of-area travelers pass by on the interstate.

Last year's Das Holz Fest, the woodworking festival, at Bear Hollow in St. Croix, drew a large weekend crowd. Some of the visitors I talked to saw the tents from the Interstate and decided to stop. They didn't even know what was going on.

The Interstate 64-Indiana 37 interchange is certainly going to be a transportation hub with the opening last year of the Frank O'Bannon Highway. The modern route links St. Croix with Eckerty, Patoka Lake and towns to the north - French Lick, West Baden Springs and Paoli. The highway has definitely shortened travel times.

In addition to a visitor's center, I think a lodge of some type well-suited somewhere in the county, would be a success. It could be located either in or near the Hoosier National Forest, perhaps on the shores of Celina or Indian Lake, or overlooking the river near Magnet or Derby. If constructed on federal land, it would require special permits and maybe even legislative approval, but I think it would be popular with visitors.

Baby boomers now entering retirement will be traveling in their golden years and while some will have motor homes or campers, others will want a soft bed and room service. A rustic lodge could cater to those travelers.

I'm happy to see the county's convention and visitors bureau, and its board of directors, recognize the importance of the tourism industry. I don't want to see Perry County overwhelmed with visitors and I doubt we'll see bumper-to-bumper traffic from fishermen, hunters or leaf-peepers, but attracting more visitors will allow businesses to grow and will new entrepreneurs interested in selling agri-products, whether it's locally made wine, honey or freshly cut flowers.

Downtown Project

Tell City's downtown project continues to make progress, although last week's cold temperatures slowed work. The new street lamps installed in Tell City's downtown are attractive. Lights in the 700 block of Main Street were first illumined last week and create plenty of soft light.

While others disagree, I like the look of the work under way. Yes, it would have been nice if entire sidewalks could have been replaced and I'm not sure who will tend to the shrubs or other plants that will take root in the open areas, but the work will give a "cared-about" look to the downtown.

Tell City's downtown faces its challenges, as downtowns do in most communities, but ours is in better shape than most. More investment dollars are needed and the improvements now taking shape are a good start.