Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Napa Valley Watch Out

The Southern Illinoisan reported today that the U.S. Treasury Department just gave wine makers in Southern Illinois an important new marketing tool according to a news release from U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello's office.

The agency approved the petition of the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area which allows "vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in a area to its geographic origin"

Parts of Williamson County are included in the 2,140 square mile area as are portions of Randolph, Jackson, Union, Alexander, Pulaski, Johnson, Williamson, Saline, Gallatin, Hardin and Pope counties.

The article didn't describe the boundaries, but a check of the Federal Register notice did.

The northern boundary of the AVA in Williamson County runs along Route 13 where it enters from Jackson County east to Interstate 57 in Marion, then down the interstate to Exit 45, then down Route 148 to Route 37, then down to Pulley's Mill and the South Fork of the Saline River. The boundary follows the river downstream to the Saline County.

Basically, the southwestern quarter of the county is in the designated area as well as the Lake of Egypt and Creal Springs area in the southeastern corner.

The designation was made according to several criteria, including historical evidence supporting the boundary, distinct geographic features, and that the area is locally and/or nationally known by its name. There are eight wineries with 51 vineyards in the Shawnee Hills AVA.

"This is an important distinction for winegrowers in Southern Illinois and the entire Illinois wine industry," said Costello in his news release. "The AVA designation will boost the popularity of Southern Illinois wines and help bring more tourists to our area."

With today's article I started looking around for what grape growers we had in Williamson County. This morning I caught up with Bill McCartney, executive director of the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, while he was driving to a meeting.

His website lists four vineyards, with one at least using "winery" in its name:
  • Cana Vineyards, Inc.
  • Pecan Garden Vineyard
  • Richey Farm & Vineyard, and
  • Stone Hall Farms Vineyard & Winery

A fifth site, Naurie's Vineyard, wasn't listed, but was one of two I knew existed in the county. I've been told of another possible vineyard near Hurst but haven't found out any more about it.

Cana Vineyards off of Cana Church Rd, and Stone Hall Farms along Wolf Creek Roads are definitely in the designated area. Richey Farm & Vineyard off of Dykersburg Road is north of the Saline River and wouldn't be, though I assume Pecan Garden would be in the area, but don't know exactly though it has a Creal Springs post office box for a mailing address.

McCartney agreed with the Congressman about the impact the new designation will provide to the area's vineyards and wineries.

"It's really important when you start marketing that wine," explained Bill McCartney, who compared it with California wine makers marketing their product under the "Napa Valley" label.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

So. Ill. Boat & Fishing Show Set for Feb. 2-4

From a WCTB News Release:

    A winter boat show will return to Southern Illinois next year with the development of the new Southern Illinois Boat & Fishing show slated for the first weekend in February.

    The Williamson County Tourism Bureau, in partnership with the Youth Outdoor Education Foundation, will sponsor the event at the Williamson County Pavilion behind the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion.

    “It’s been a few years since we had a show like this in the region,” said Jon Musgrave, the new executive director of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau. “Last week the tourism board approved a pitch from the foundation to co-sponsor the show.”

    The board approved the proposal at their Nov. 15 meeting and organizers finalized the exact dates this week.

    “This is going to be a hard-core boat and fishing show for the sportsmen of Southern Illinois and families,” promised organizer Ron Allen with the education foundation.
    The show will be open to the public with free admission.

    Tentative hours are set for 4 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 4.

    Interested vendors can contact Allen by phone at 217-787-8862 or 217-725-7602, or by e-mail at allen92@insightbb.com. Interested persons can also contact Musgrave at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau at 618-997-3690 or jmusgrave@wctb.org.

Bed Tax Receipts Drop Slightly

Williamson County bed tax receipts dropped slightly in September according to figures received this week at the Williamson County Tourism Bureau.

The county levies a 5 percent bed tax which generated $58,230.20 owed by lodging operators in September. That's down about a half a percent.

By county ordinance the tourism bureau receives 40 percent of that amount, or $23,292.08 in the latest check, to support the bureau's operations. The remaining 60 percent goes to the Williamson County Events Commission to pay for the Williamson County Pavilion.

By comparison in 2006 the 2 percent bed tax for the tourism bureau generated 23,417.45, though at the time two motels were delinquent.

September's bed tax receipts are paid by the lodging operators to the county in October, and the county transfers the funds the following month to the tourism bureau and events commission.

CORRECTION - 12/19/06
I made a mistake in the calculations. Rather than a half a point decrease, September's motel receipts dropped 5.9 percent compared to August, but rose 5 percent from the previous September.

Miners Manager Named, Season Opens May 29

The Southern Illinois Miners named Mike Pinto as their new field manager Tuesday and announced that the first home game at the new Minors Stadium would take place on May 29, six days after the team's season opener in Sauget.

Pinto comes to the team after two seasons at the helm of the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association and three seasons of coaching with the Joliet Jackhammers of the Independent Northern League. Mike also coached two seasons at Oakton Community College.

During his first official day on the job, Pinto signed the first two players for the Miners:

  • Chris Hall, a 6' 3", 220 lb 3rd Baseman, played at Indiana State University and hit .350 his senior year with a .470 slugging percentage. He started his professional career in Shreveport, Louisiana in the Central League in 2004 where he hit .260. He then went with manager Terry Bevington to Edmonton in 2005 and hit .277 while setting a Northern League record for assists with 203 as the leagues best 3rd baseman. Although he hit .239 in 2006 for Sioux Falls, Chris hit .323 in the final month of the season while continuing his sparkling play at 3rd base. He also hit 19 doubles, had 4 home runs and 7 stolen bases.

  • Jose Torres, a 6', 195 lb left fielder, drafted in the 39th round by the Texas Rangers, split the 2006 season with the Lincoln Saltdogs and St. Paul Saints of the American Association, hitting a combined .247 with 6 home runs and 37 RBI along with having 6 outfield assists.

The team also released the 2007 season schedule. Pinto and the Miners will take the field for the first time on May 23 against the Gateway Grizzlies in Sauget, Illinois, and for the first time at home on May 29th against the Evansville Otters.

The schedule includes 51 home games during 11 home stands. The team plans to have fireworks displays after the first home game and all Friday home games.

Inaugural season tickets and Miners team merchandise can be purchased by calling the team office at 618-998-8499, stopping by the office in the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion, or on the team website: www.southernillinoisminers.com.

'Color It Pink' at Artisans Shop

The Southern Illinoisan had a good story last week on the new exhibit at the Southern Illinois Artisans Shop at Rend Lake.

Thanks Stephanie at SITDO for the tip.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Marion Campground Opens

The Marion Campground and RV Park won't be finished until next spring, but the first campers arrive this weekend.

Advertised as the "premiere RV park in Southern Illinois" the developers plan on 58 full service sites and 27 pull-through sites.

When everything is finished, the park will include a convenience store, laundry and shower facilities, plus amenities such as satellite television and wireless internet available at each site.

The new park is located off of Seventh Street just north of Main Street east of Exit 53 on Interstate 57.

The website is easily remembered as www.MarionCampground.com.

Friday, November 17, 2006

And The Name Is...

... the Southern Illinois Miners.
We wanted a name that the people of the region could identify with in a personal way. We think the miner was an excellent choice because he represents the many great qualities of people in Southern Illinois - hard working, honest, and dedicated," said Erik Haag, spokesman for the Southern Illinois Baseball Group.

"Throughout the history of this region many miners labored under less than ideal conditions in an effort to put food on the table and improve the lives of their families," Haag added. "We think the name also reflects the recent renaissance in mining in the area which will serve as an economic catalyst for the future."

The team's new website is www.SouthernIllinoisMiners.com. Team merchandise is already available for sale at the team's kiosk in the mall. Merchandise and tickets can also be purchased online.

Next on the agenda will be the announcement of the coach and the first couple of players hired as well as the 2007 schedule.

Games begin in late May and run to early September.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Area Beatles Site Gets New Owner

Congrats to Sarah Morrison, the new owner of a Hard Day's Nite and a future Beatles shrine/museum(?) in Benton.

The bed and breakfast inn is the house formerly belonging to Louise Harrison, sister to the famed George Harrison who visited Benton and performed in the area prior to the Beatles invasion of America.

Today's Southern Illinois has the story.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

First Day On The Job

The day started at 7:57 a.m. when I pulled into the Pavilion parking lot.

Almost 13 hours later it ended when I pulled out at 8:53 p.m.

Welcome to the life of the new executive director of the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, which would, uh, be me!

Actually, it was a very good day. Jeanette Sollami has been acting as interim director for the last two-and-a-half months will stay on for another couple of months to help with the transition.

The Williamson County Tourism Board held their annual Thanksgiving meeting for lunch with turkey and all the trimmings. Tonight for dinner Jeanette and I attended a meeting at Giant City Lodge where we had the family style chicken dinner.

Of course the meals did put us in a fowl mood.

Sorry, I've been making that lame joke all day. I hesitate to think how many times Jeanette has heard me use it.

Tonight's meeting dealt with the new Illinois Travel Guide with Joan Sharp, a representative of Madden Preprint Media on hand to highlight their offerings.

Had a chance to sit down and speak with Vickie Cummiskey, Harrisburg's new economic development director; Stephanie Rhodes, executive director of the Southern Illinois Tourism Development Office; Sheryl Durham, coordinator of the Illinois section of the Ohio River Scenic Byway; and Angelo and Janice Fiorino, owners of Murphysboro's Apple Tree Inn, which I learned tonight they purchased from Southern Illinois tourism pioneer Wayman Presley.

Earlier today the tourism board approved three main goals for me during the first year:

  • Bring the Williamson County Pavilion into the black (or at least very dark gray). We're close to breaking even, just not close enough some months.

  • Bring the website up-to-date and expand it.

  • Develop new attractions and events to expand Williamson County tourism.

I also made a short presentation on how we might go about accomplishing the third goal. Information on that will be announced next month, but I'll offer one hint now. We won't do it alone. It's going to require grassroots efforts.

In terms of the first goal the tourism board approved a proposal by Dwight Hoffard, John A. Logan College's representative on the board to co-sponsor a new late winter boat show the first weekend in March at the Pavilion.

I'll have more on the new Southern Illinois Boat & Fishing Show as details are announced. The Youth Outdoor Education Foundation will be the lead co-sponsor of the event.

The dates are March 3 and 4, which is the weekend after the Motorcycle Show (last weekend of February) and the weekend before the Home Builders Expo (the second weekend of March).

UPDATE: The newspapers have now covered the hiring. Cherri Flinn's for the Marion Daily Republican is here and Ashley Wiehle's for the Southern Illinoisan can be found here.

Few Hints Offered on Baseball Team Name

Today's Marion Daily Republican has two stories on the new Frontier League baseball team coming to Marion.

The first story covers the problems of all the rain is having on construction.
“We’re only getting two to three days a week of work because of the rain,” said Project Superintendent Pete Woolley, of Holland Construction Services. “We’ve been working Saturdays when it’s dry.”

The second story focuses on the team name.
Southern Illinois Baseball Group Spokesperson Erik Haag will be the first to admit that he has almost “spilled the beans” of the new minor league team’s name.

“We’ve been talking about it around the office so much, I’ve nearly let it slip at least once,” he said.

Officials from the Southern Illinois Baseball Group will reveal the new team name, logo and colors tomorrow at the center court of the Illinois Centre Mall at 6 p.m

Monday, November 13, 2006

Public Invited for Team Name Unveiling

Southern Illinois baseball fans will find out Thursday what the name will be for the new Frontier League team set to start play in Marion next spring.

Officials from the Southern Illinois Baseball Group will unveil the team name and logo at 6 p.m. this Thursday at the center court of the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion.

Last week construction finally grew above the street level on Blue Heron Drive. Work is planned to continued over the winter.

For more pictures of the baseball stadium's construction check out the group's photo gallery.

Alton Tourism Finds Slots Off Riverboat

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Amanda St. Amand writes about Brett Stawar's job and work as president of the Alton Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ask the man whose job is luring visitors to the Alton area what there is to do, and he recites a laundry list of events and attractions. Ask Missouri residents what there is in Alton, and they likely will say a casino.

Amand focuses on Stawar's efforts to develop and promote other sites in the northern St. Louis Metro-East area.

We've got some of the same issues here in Williamson County and Southern Illinois.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fulton Co. Tourism Summit Offers Blueprint

Today's Canton Daily Ledger includes a story on last Friday's tourism summit for Fulton County, home of the celebrated Spoon River.

Participants listed to speakers, gathered in small groups and hashed out ideas for tourism branding and development.

Having read the story I'm not that impressed with the summit's results, but I recognize the need behind it. Local residents and businesses have to buy into the idea of tourism. It's also something that can't be implemented top-down. It has to have grassroots support if it is to stick and spread.

About a decade ago Hartzel Black, then of Southeastern Illinois College, helped coordinate a series of four-county meetings for the Saline, Gallatin, Hardin and Pope County areas. I took an active part in those meetings and helped draft the tourism development plan that was generated from the discussion at those meetings.

Regrettably, little of those plans ever took effect, though the state did finally purchase the Old Slave House three years later.

Hartzel left SIC for greener pastures and Pope County decided to join the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau. Hardin County and Gallatin County remain unalighted and left out of the state's CVB program and Saline County loosely affiliated with Williamson in order to receive state help.

I found an article in Google's cache of stories from The Daily Register that outlines the history of "Tourism Promotion Activity Since the 1920s" that mentions some of the problems that had to be overcome.

Airline Named for Marion - Chicago Flights

The long-awaited news that commercial air passenger service from Marion to Carbondale would resume is old news to us here in Southern Illinois, but it's made the Chicago Tribune now, so it must be real.

Seriously, the free publicity in the Tribune will trump the entire marketing budget for the Williamson County Airport Authority spends to promote flights to St. Louis, and soon, Chicago.

Although the new flights won't be non-stop to Chicago, Airport Manager Doug Kimmel has said publicly in the past he believes ridership will grow to a level that makes non-stop flights feasible.

Airport leaders made the official announcement this afternoon. I'm certain more details will be in tomorrow's Southern.

Air Midwest joins American Connection in offering flights out of Marion, the only airport in Southern Illinois with scheduled commercial air service.

There's only one detail unclear. The newspaper stories all described the name as Air Midwest, but the company's news release says Air Midwest will operate the flights under the name Mesa Airlines.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

State Eyes Free Internet at Rest Stops

State officials announced last week they are considering plans to make the interstate rest stops Internet hotspots.

Under the plans, still in the earliest stages, the state would offer free Internet service for travelers at the rest stops.

I thought IDOT Spokesman Matt Vanover's comment was appropriate for Williamson County.

Vanover said it could be particularly useful for motorists and truckers who are traveling on long trips. Someone crossing into the state from Kentucky could stop at the Interstate 57 rest area across the Ohio River from Paducah and look up which hotels are up the road in cities like Marion or Mt. Vernon.

The state is trying to figure out how to do this without any cost to the state. Likely, a private firm would offer limited free service and charge for longer times online.

Friday, November 03, 2006

New Businesses Eye Marion's Main Street

WBVN Radio announced they're moving their new studio to downtown Marion Thursday to the old Tony's Steakhouse across from the Civic Center just off the square.

WBVN is the region's largest contemporary Christian radio station and produces a number of concerts at the Civic Center. Though it's not directly tourism-related it's a boost to downtown Marion.

Also coming downtown is another business in the old Stylart building next to City Hall. I've been told what the business is, but I can't tell because the person telling me didn't know of the new business owners were ready to announce.

That something is coming is not a secret. A large construction-size dumpster has been sitting on the sidewalk mirroring the dumpster across the square in front of the old Marion State and Savings Bank building while it goes through a complete renovation.

Already they've ripped out the fake walls and drop ceiling of the dress shop and apparently plan on keep the space open up to tin ceiling.

The third project is down West Main Street with a new retail establishment going into the old CVS drug store building next to Borowiak's supermarket.

And meanwhile city officials hope that there's a real live prospect interested in the old Marion Memorial Hospital building.

Two weeks ago at the city council meeting Mayor Bob Butler did some of the worst one-sided negotiating I've ever seen, as he managed to get all five council members to say on the record what their bottom price would be to sell the building.

This is the type of negotiating usually done in closed session. It was pretty obvious the mayor was trying to send a very strong hint to someone.

New Log Cabin Opens in Williamson

I missed it last month, but Lynn and Jan Bush held an open house on Oct. 22, for their new Devil's Kitchen Cabins off of Grassy Road near Devil's Kitchen Lake.

The only have one pine log cabin but plan to build more on their wooded 80 acre tract. "Premier outdoor lodging," they promise, "deep in the woods of Southern Illinois.

I checked out their website at www.DevilsKitchenCabins.com and they are already booked for much of November. Way to go!

Besides hunting and fishing at the nearby lakes and hunt clubs, their location near puts them near Giant City Lodge and State Park and the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.

Note: The picture above shows the cabin just before all the work on the site was complete in August. If the time stamp is correct then it was also taken on my birthday.

New Blog on the Street


For reasons that will become clear in the next few weeks I've decided to start this blog to cover the changes and happenings in the tourism industry of Southern Illinois, particularly Williamson County, where I live.

I've long been active in tourism development efforts, most particularly with the Old Slave House near Equality. For the latest updates check out a few of my recent posts on the house.

Much of what I've done falls under the category of heritage tourism, but I also was one of the original board members of the River-to-River Trail Society when it organized back in the early 1990s.

About that same I also published The Goshen Traveler in 1991 and early 1992. It was a monthly tourism newspaper that serviced the southern 15 counties of Illinois.

There's a lot going on right now in the region, but we're just scratching the surface of all that can be done here.

Meanwhile, check out the Williamson County Tourism Bureau's new website at www.wctb.org.