Coweta has resources to attract tourists for Civil War's 150th

By W. WINSTON SKINNER Tourists will be heading to Georgia starting in 2011 for the Civil War's 150th anniversary, and plans are already being made to get some of them to stop in Coweta County. John Culpepper, chairman of the Georgia Civil War Commission, spoke recently to members of Coweta Guards Camp 715, Sons of Confederate Veterans. Culpepper, who is the city manager in Chickamauga, got a warm welcome from SCV members.
Culpepper, 64, said he is willing to return to Coweta County to talk with development or tourism officials about the anniversary -- and its potential to generate revenues for communities with Civil War resources. "The numbers are there. I see them every day," Culpepper said. Chickamauga's town center is located one mile from Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. "Over 900,000 people a year come to the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park and add $36 million to the local economy," he said. The Civil War 150th gives a new twist to the "if you build it, they will come" mantra. "It" doesn't have to be built. "It was put in place 150 years ago. Promote it. Show what you've got," Culpepper said. Culpepper noted tourism is the largest industry in the United States and the second largest in Georgia. "Heritage tourism is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry," he said. "We haven't looked at tourism as industry, but we need to," Culpepper stated emphatically. People from all over the world come to Georgia "to study the Civil War," Culpepper said. The state's claim to Margaret Mitchell's novel, "Gone With the Wind," adds to that attraction for many visitors. The Georgia Civil War Commission was created in 1993 by the Georgia General Assembly. Its mandate, as spelled out in Senate Resolution 21, is "to coordinate planning, preservation and promotion of structures, buildings, sites and battlefields associated with this significant period of our common heritage." With the 150th anniversary just ahead, the commission is putting together "Crossroads of Conflict," which Culpepper described as "your official Civil War tour guide to all the sites in Georgia." The booklet will feature information on 340 sites in 52 counties. Coweta County's listing includes the Brown's Mill battle site, the Male Academy Museum and Oak Hill Cemetery. "If you're coming to Georgia to study the war, it's going to be a tour guide. It's not going to be a history book, but it is going to be a tour guide," Culpepper said. Culpepper hopes to see lots of small and medium-sized towns in Georgia promote their Civil War era locales, but he said much of the promotion will be up to the local communities and sites. "With the state of the economy, each community's going to have to pull their projects together to get these heritage tourists in," he said. Something that has already happened is the formation of the Tri-State Civil War 150th Commemoration Association. That organization is bringing together communities in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Attractions, communities, businesses, individuals and organizations -- such as chambers of commerce and convention and visitor bureaus -- can join the organization. There are membership levels ranging from $250-$1,000. The organization will have a Web site where visitors can click through to find sites, restaurants and other amenities in participating towns. Billboards and other forms of advertising are also planned. "We are pushing that basically the war ended in Georgia," Culpepper said. The end was foreseeable "when the south lost control of Chattanooga, which was the railroad center of the Confederacy and the natural gateway to the Appalachians," he explained. He said that even today highway travel in that region tends to "go through this gap" at Chattanooga. After Chattanooga's fall, what little manufacturing there was in the Confederacy took place in middle Georgia and middle Alabama. "When Chattanooga fell, the gateway opened," Culpepper said. "Sherman started his campaign for Atlanta." Once Union troops reached Savannah in December 1864, the Confederacy "could not field an army anymore," he said. Some other Southern states -- Virginia, in particular -- have been more rigorous about promoting their Civil War history to tourists. "We've got a lot of catching up to do," Culpepper said. "What happened here was just as critical as anything that happened in Virginia. What we've got to do is to make it available to the public." Promotion is part of what is needed, but Culpepper said interpretive signs are also important. Outdoor sites, like the Brown's Mill property, are more meaningful to visitors if there is signage that explains its significance. He said fiberglass signs with text and images can be purchased for about $1,000 each. When a visitor "gets out of the car, there needs to be something for him to see," Culpepper said. Re-enactors and heritage groups like the SCV and the United Daughters of the Confederacy will naturally be part of the Civil War anniversary. Historical societies and sites with a tie to that period will also likely connect with the observance. Culpepper said, however, that "telling the whole story" of the time is also important. Tales passed down in families about Yankees showing up at the family farm need to be incorporated -- as do stories from the African-American community about slavery and emancipation. The anniversary observance will last from 2011-2015. "We'd like to see one major event each year in Georgia," Culpepper said. He said the Battle of Chickamauga will be re-enacted there in 2013 on the 150th anniversary of that event. "It doesn't have to be a battle," he said. A recreated encampment showing "what the soldiers ate, the clothes they wore" -- both Union and Confederate -- could draw a crowd. Wartime industries or -- in Newnan's case -- the town's role as a hospital center could also be used to craft events.

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