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Dayton, Tenn., has installed a walking bridge on loan from Chattanooga for the BassMaster BASS Fest tournament that gets underway Wednesday. Fishermen must park their trailers on the west side of U.S. Highway 27 and walk to the landing via a walkway to the marina at the Dayton Boat Dock.
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Gary Louallen

DAYTON, Tenn. -- The biggest thing since the prosecution of John Scopes is here.

City leaders are talking about a nearly-unprecedented economic impact and national attention from the BassMaster tournament and inaugural BassFest expo, which starts Wednesday.

"I feel good about $2.5 million [in economic impact]," said Mayor Gary Louallen.

The 5-day tournament could pump up to $250,000 into tax coffers for the city -- which is in the ballpark of what is normally generated in sales taxes in an entire month.

Last year, the month of June was the city's second-biggest month for sales tax money, after December. Dayton hosted a Walmart FLW Tour tournament that month, one of the biggest tournaments to that point to have come to the city.

But this week's event is going to be on a whole different level, said Dennis Tumlin, director at the Rhea Economic and Tourism Council.

"We've never seen an event like this," he said last week.

BassFest is an outdoor expo that will set up at Point Park, one of the city's lakefront parks. Point Park is also where the BassMaster stage, which is three semi-trailers long, will be, with a Jumbotron screen aimed toward the river.

Tumlin said representatives from BassMaster and ESPN have come to town a handful of times to find the set-up they want.

The tournament and festival are designed to be a sort of bookend to the BassMaster Classic which happens in Guntersville, Ala., every February, the Mecca of the bass fishing world.

The BassMaster Classic, in its 44th year, is reported to have a $20 million economic impact on Birmingham, Ala., which hosts the BassMaster Classic Outdoors Expo and tournament weigh-in.

The BassMaster summer tournament and expo coming to Dayton this week typically travel around, but Tumlin said there's a chance Dayton can get them again next year.

But regardless of what happens in 2015, this is still a big chance for the city, one that could solidify its place on the bass fishing radar if everything goes well.

City and county leaders know that. And it has them concentrating on the things they believe will set Dayton apart from other stops around the Southeast.

Rather than herd spectators and tourists across four-lane Highway 27, the city borrowed a floating dock from the city of Chattanooga which bridges an inlet between Point Park and Swinging Bridge Park.

That way, walkers can pass under the highway via an asphalt walking track, avoiding vehicle traffic.

State parties chipped in, too.

Louallen said a handful of Tennessee Highway Patrol officers will help facilitate walkers and traffic on tomorrow and Thursday, then up to 10 or 11 of them will help on over the span of the weekend.

Tennessee Wildlife and Resource Agency officers will also be present to facilitate boat traffic and assist in water safety issues.

Hosting a mammoth bass tournament does come with some upfront costs.

Just for this week's events, the city and county combined are spending $150,000 on improvements, personnel and infrastructure to jazz up facilities and accommodate the 20,000 to 30,000 folks expected to attend. The city put up $75,000 of the money and the county put in $50,000.

Over the past five years, officials have braced, spent and prepped to someday see a fishing event of this magnitude.

In 2010, the city built a new boat dock, fully-stocked and larger than the 1950s-era one which previously operated near the lake.

"It's been at least a four-year process," said Tumlin. "The city council bought into the vision that we need world-class facilities to host these types of events."

He said putting the money in has always been considered the means to this end.

And that the money expected from this BassMaster tournament -- and all the others almost sure to come in its wake -- is going to pay for local improvements that locals will enjoy year-round.

"Every single resident of Rhea County benefits from this event," he said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6480.