The first tourists to ever visit Blount County in the 1500s didn’t have roadsigns to direct them or teach them about this area’s heritage.
Sen. Lamar Alexander said the natives in Blount County must have been surprised when Spanish conquistadors arrived. “I’m trying to imagine what it must have been like for Indians seeing them come down the creek,” he said.
On Jan. 4, Alexander touted cultural and heritage tourism during a press conference to unveil a new Preserve America sign at the road named in his honor on U.S Highway 321 at the Loudon/Blount County line. Lamar Alexander Parkway runs through Loudon County and into Blount County all the way to where it becomes Wears Valley Road in Townsend. Preserve America signs will be placed at each entrance into the county.
The senator said U.S. Highway 321 was designated a Scenic Highway in the early 1980s. “It’s been said there’s no approach to a national park as scenic and uncluttered as 321,” he said. “It’s hard to unclutter a highway. Once it’s done, it’s done.”
Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said the Preserve America designation fits Blount County well since so many people throughout the country have ancestors who came through the Shenandoah Valley down into East Tennessee and through Wear’s Valley. “There’s such a rich history,” said Cunningham. “They traced their roots from East Tennessee.”
Herb Handly, executive vice president of tourism for the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the tourists who come to enjoy the culture and heritage of the area are preferred over other types of tourists. Studies show that “they stay longer and spend more money,” he said.
Blount County, through the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau, applied for the Preserve America designation in June, and it was officially presented its Preserve America certificate at a ceremony in September at Maryville College. Blount County is one of seven Preserve America Communities in Tennessee, and it is the first county in Tennessee to receive the designation.
The Preserve America initiative supports community efforts to preserve and enjoy America’s cultural and natural heritage. Chaired by First Lady Laura Bush, the goals of the initiative include a greater shared knowledge about the nation’s past; strengthened regional identities and local pride; increased local participation in preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage assets; and support for the economic vitality of our communities.