Contact: Tammy O'Kelley

How often do you think of tourism and parks and recreation working hand-in-hand to create unique visitor experiences? If you’re not working with your local area parks and recreation department you’re missing some wonderful promotional opportunities for your destination.

In the Heart of North Carolina, the Tourism Development Authority, TDA, is undertaking a new strategy to increase the number of ringing cash registers, hotel stays, and ultimately governmental coffers.  How?  By partnering with television station WFMY News 2 in Greensboro and the City of Asheboro Parks and Recreation Department on a promotional campaign designed to extend the typical visitor’s stay to the North Carolina Zoo. With 752,052 visitors in 2007 we’re actively working to keep more of them in town just a little bit longer with an advertising campaign to brand and position Asheboro as ‘proud home of the North Carolina Zoo’. We want zoo guests to know they can relax and have more fun after their visits by taking in dinner and a play, a picnic and a concert, or a hot dog and a sporting event. 

In the past few years we’ve seen substantial growth in our parks and recreation programs and are focusing upon those assets.  In Asheboro, parks and recreation director, Foster Hughes, has expanded his operation to include the renovation and management of the beautiful old Sunset Theatre, added a brand new concert series on Friday afternoons, created a new street festival, developed a skate park, and among other things is helping to grow the farmer’s market. “We’re building an entertainment infrastructure offering families children seniors singles couples and visitors cultural and sporting fun”, says Hughes.

May through August the City of Asheboro hosts two monthly musical events at Bicentennial Park in downtown - the Summer Concert Series on the third Sunday of each month – and First Friday Beach Music on the first Friday of each month.  It’s easy to wrap up your zoo trip with a dinner downtown then walk to the park for an evening of musical entertainment.  Hughes says the theater is booked more than 200 times a year. The City has just completed major renovations including new sound and light, carpet, paint, and has created a new back of house area and new practice area. “We’re turning Asheboro into a cultural arts center” he adds. “We show classic films, hold plays, offer lectures, and hold around 20 concerts a year at the Sunset Theatre. Not only do these efforts benefit the community and create pride it provides visitor opportunities for folks who have spent the day at the zoo and are looking for evening entertainment.” 

Naturally downtown restaurants and retail shops benefit from the evening crowd.Hughes is preparing to lead the effort for one more park that just broke ground – Zoo City Park – in order to provide yet another avenue to extend zoo-goers visits. Thanks to the city’s 20/20 Strategic Plan a $100,000 donation from the Kiwanis Club of Asheboro and a $500,000 grant from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the 65-acre facility will offer fields for soccer, bocce ball, shuffle board, a dog park, an amphitheater, – and more. The first phase will open in 2009. 

The City of Archdale in the northwest portion of Randolph County is continually building on their parks and recreation programs long realizing the visitor impact on their community. They opened their first greenway in 1998 and have continued building and development since. “Not only do they serve local residents but they also provide a relaxing break for thousands of parents and families of children playing in area ball tournaments”, says Elaine Albertson, recreation director for the City of Archdale.  Working with the TDA, the City of Archdale Parks and Recreation Department was able to land a major softball sporting event. The North Carolina National Softball Association NCNSA held seven girls’ tournaments in 2007 and will expand to nine tournaments in 2008. Games are played from the end of July through November thus extending the shoulder season. This year Albertson was able to squeeze tournaments in early during March and April. “We hold fields for our own programs from April through late July”, explains Albertson. “Before and afterwards we’re hosting travel ball tournaments.” Albertson’s efforts have paid off and Archdale hoteliers and tournament participants as well are reaping the benefits of her partnership with the TDA.  “We get so many compliments from tournament participants about our tourism office”, adds Albertson. “For every event they provide goody bags packed with information on tourist attractions, events, dining, and maps to our fields. Many teams aren’t accustomed to getting such service.”

We’re excited about fostering a stronger relationship with our parks and recreation departments thereby further building our tourism assets. As zoo attendance grows so will the overflow into our communities and to other attractions and restaurants. And in the words of Martha Stewart that’s a good thing!