Fishing, boating drive county tourism — Maryland Independent — Fri., July 20, 2007

By John Reardon
The official word

Summer is here, and the national bass tournaments have begun. Aug. 9 through 12 the Bass Masters Elite Tournament arrives in Charles County, following two FLW national tournaments with 400 fishing pros each testing their skills against the evasive Charles County bass population.

These national ‘‘catch-and-release” programs are well-known in our region. Charles County’s Potomac waterways are home to some of the nation’s largest bass on the national circuits, and our waterways are known by the pros for their real challenges.

This year, the best of the best is the Bassmasters Elite event in August, and the Charles County commissioners want to make it a special event for fishermen, Bassmasters regional membership and our residents. This year, the county’s tourism and economic development departments have joined the Charles County Arts Alliance, Waldorf Jaycees, area merchants and a host of others to create the inaugural ‘‘Bass Bash” in conjunction with the tournament. While the anglers are out on the water, Smallwood State Park will feature fun, food and entertainment for the family.

Southern Maryland’s own country music star, Austin Cody — a rising star in Nashville — will headline the event, along with acoustic guitarist Jeff Miller and roaming musicians. There will be a radio remote by WKIK as well as art exhibits, food vendors and even a bass coloring contest for young people, with prizes and their colorings signed by the pros.

These are only a small example of the entertainment targeted for the Bass Bash set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 11 at Smallwood State Park. Parking is limited at the park, but overflow parking will be available at Henry E. Lackey High School, with free bus shuttles to and from the event. We wish all the fishermen the best of weather and the best of luck with the tides.

In Charles County, fishing, boating and water-related activities generate more than $40 million per year and are the largest visitor and local resident activity under tourism. It is also why the county looks to expand its public waterfront access along the 250-plus miles of undeveloped shoreline.

Charles County tourism is a key component of the area’s business opportunities and open-space retention strategies. The industry employs more than 8,000 of our area’s residents and is estimated to generate $150 million per year in sales.

The majority of our visitors coming from 50 miles or farther out come from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California.

We even get visitors from Ohio, Texas, Florida and the Carolinas.

Last year, all visitors reached 750,000 in number, according to the state department of tourism. They spent an estimated $130 million in Charles County, of which 9 percent was in lodging, 40 percent in food, 36 percent in retail sales, 7 percent in events and admissions, and 8 percent in other items.

They helped generate the county hotel tax revenues that reached $800,000 last year and the area’s admission and amusement tax another $800,000. Tourism amenities and events help create the revenue streams that buy and maintain open space, generate entertainment and create higher levels of quality of life.

As Charles County heads into late 2007, there are a number of new tourism amenities on the horizon for the coming years: the new stadium and entertainment center, which will draw some 250,000 visitors and residents for everything from baseball to concerts; five new hotels — some with conference centers and adjoining restaurants; and new sports fields, recreation areas and hiker⁄biker trails.

In 2008, Charles County celebrates its 350th birthday, and a number of exciting events are planned just for that year.

I suspect it will be a good year for the county to take a moment and remember its history from the beginning of the county to present times and all the families and individuals that called the county home or their home away from home.

I understand that the bass might even cooperate to make it a special year for resident fishermen.
To all those that were here for the FLW tournaments and those attending the upcoming Bassmasters Elite tournament, welcome to Charles County, Maryland, home of the Big Ones.