This subject has been on my mind for the past few weeks because of the great number of fantastic things that have happened in our county just recently and also the great number of things that will be happening during the next few months.
These are events and activities that we local folks enjoy, but they also draw visitors from other parts of North Carolina, from other states, and in some cases from other nations. Quite a few people plan their vacations so they can take part in these events.
The Lumbee Homecoming held recently in Pembroke drew thousands of people — many of them with family in the county but quite a few of them just wanted to be a part of what was happening.
River Way Outdoor Adventure Center in Lumberton and the Lumber River State Park at Princess Ann have been providing canoe, kayak, and pontoon boat trips down the beautiful Lumber River. Although the City of Lumberton states “A River Runs Through It,” it is not just any old river. Our river is recognized by the state of North Carolina as a natural and scenic river and by the U.S. Department of Interior as a wild and scenic river. People come from around the nation to enjoy the river that we abuse, neglect, and take for granted.
The Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair will be held next month. Not any old county fair, but a county fair that was recognized eight different times as the best county agricultural fair in the entire state. For 10 days, more than 75,000 people, many from other counties, will enjoy the largest single entertainment and educational event in southeastern North Carolina.
The Givens Performing Arts Center on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke just announced its lineup of events for the coming year. Famous and world-renown performers and speakers will educate and entertain thousands of people from this county, but they will also draw thousands of others into our county because of the opportunities that will be made available.
Unless you live under a rock, you are well aware of many other great things our county has to offer. Our newly remodeled Carolina Civic Center now offers a great assortment of entertaining and enriching events. Some of their recent events have been sold out, which indicates that this facility will draw a crowd. I bet it is safe to say that not everyone who attends a performance is a local resident. I bet a good number of them come from outside our county to enjoy what we have to offer.
Chevy to the Levee continues to grow each year, and many of those who come to enjoy it come from outside the county. The Fairmont Farmers Festival will draw family and visitors from many places other than Robeson County. The Maxton Collard Festival is now supported by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Because it features a local agricultural commodity, so many additional people will be attending.
Parkton will celebrate Railroad Day early next month — a celebration that will highlight the Unity Pull for Tourism. Over the course of five days, world-famous and Guinness Book of World Record holder Harold Collins, Chief Iron Bear, will pull a 20,000 pound truck into eight different communities in order to bring awareness to the need for all citizens in Robeson County to unify for tourism.
For the past several years, I have been working with a group of leaders from virtually every community in the county. We have been meeting regularly, the first Wednesday of every month, to examine the impact that travel and tourism makes on our county. We have been trying to develop some strategies to stimulate our local economy, improve the appearance of our county, and increase the quality of life for all of our citizens.
This group has become known as the Robeson Tourism Development Association. Not Robeson County but just Robeson, because we realize that for tourism to grow, we must capitalize on the resources of the region, not just those in our county. Not promotional but development, because we realize that even though we have a lot to offer, we must work hard and work smart to develop high-quality events, activities, and facilities to attract more travel and tourism into our county.
Recent statistics indicate that travelers and tourists spend more than $118 million annually in our county. They created the need for 1,120 jobs. They paid sales tax on what they purchased, and over $2.6 million of that tax money went to our county and city governments. This was tax money we local folks did not have to pay.
Can you imagine what our county can become if we work together to get these travelers and tourists to spend just one extra day in our county as they pass through? What do we need to do to entice them to enjoy what we have to offer? If we do, they will eagerly spend money for great experiences.
First of all, if guests are coming, we need to clean up our house. We need the help of everyone reading this column to make Robeson County a more attractive place. The City of Lumberton has a fall litter sweep this month. Other communities will be doing likewise.
Let’s get involved in other people’s vacations. We need your help to give them something to plan for as they start thinking about next year.
— Everett Davis is the director of the Robeson County Cooperative Extension Service.