Local tourism has been strong this summer, and with the opening of a regional self-guided driving tour Thursday, industry leaders expect more visitors to stay longer and explore a wider region.
The "Pie in the Sky: MoonPies to Mountain Highs Trail" is a 363-mile driving trail starting and ending in Chattanooga that sends visitors to the lesser-known attractions in nearby towns.
The newly blazed Pie in the Sky self-guided driving trail features a number of unique features, including:
The world's first tow truck at the Towing and Recovery Museum
Tennessee's oldest family-owned bakery, Dutch Maid Bakery
A grand waterfall in Fall Creek Falls State Park
The first train station hotel, the 102-year-old Chattanooga Choo Choo
"We want more visitors, we want them to stay longer, and when they stay longer, they spend money here longer," said Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.
Whitaker said there are numerous attractions in rural areas that tourists don't see, mainly because they don't know about them. She expects the trail to direct tourists, using the Scenic City as their vacation hub, to rural communities, generating more tourist dollars in areas that don't usually see such benefits.
With established Chattanooga attractions such as the River Walk and the Walnut Street bridge, and ever-emerging new attractions, the city will be sure to reap extra rewards as tourists extend their stays. Thursday's trail unveiling featured a 65-pound, 45,000 calorie treat the Chattanooga Bakery called the world's largest MoonPie.
Tourism, which brings $13.3 billion to Tennesseans, was up in July over a year ago and with the new trail giving tourists more direction, he anticipates an equally successful fall, said Bob Doak, president and chief executive officer of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The trail is one of what will eventually be 16 in a Tennessee tourism program. The entire program costs about $650,000 of federal and state funds targeted at tourism and scenic byway beautification projects, according to Joe Carpenter, assistant commissioner of the state Department of Transportation.
About $35,000 of that budget went to creating the Chattanooga trail.
"We're just trying to keep the tourism strong and working," Carpenter said. "Tourism, the more numbers that come in, the more dollars. It's a big deal for Tennessee."