Tourism big business for Pulaski
October 18, 2016 Share

Tourism big business for Pulaski

Back in 2002 Pulaski County saw major industries move to locations in other countries thanks to NAFTA. Over 2,000 industrial jobs were lost in one year. Industrial dollars are purported to turn over four times as payroll dollars are spent in the community. You would think that might cripple the local economy. But, while it hurt, the local economy is so diverse, it was able to withstand that blow. Pulaski County is strong in Banking, agriculture, education, recreation, is a market place for counties around and has a tremendous variety of restaurants and other things drawing people to this community.

When you talk of progress and a strong economy, you can’t overlook Tourism. Lake Cumberland draws more visitors than some major national parks in a year. And when it comes to the effect of the tourist dollar, it has the same effect as the industrial dollar.

The Paducah Sun recently reported that the Kentucky Cabinet for Tourism, Arts and Heritage recently released a study showing Kentucky has seen its largest overall gain in tourism dollars since 2009.

 The study says the tourism industry in the Bluegrass State generated $13.7 billion in economic impact during 2015, an increase of  5 percent over the previous year. Tourism also generated more than $1.43 billion in taxes, with $184.9 million going directly to local communities. Not to be overlooked is that the tourist industry supported more than 186,000 jobs, including 6,200 new jobs created in 2015.

How is this accomplished locally? Aside from lake activities, think of all the other special activities that bring people to Pulaski County. There are conventions, shows, and other activities hosted at the Center For Rural Development. There is the Master Musician’s Festival. There is the monthly antique and show cars and crowds brought in by the Somernites Cruise. There are the facilities of the State Park, Somerset’s Park System with its SomerSplash Water Park, the County Park and more. Two of the lake’s major marinas are located in Pulaski County. All these things bring in people from other locations and they use our motels (which we have plenty of), they eat at our restaurants (which we have lots of), they shop and they buy gas, etc, etc.  That all spells dollars feeding our local economy. Let’s look at the progress that has been made in so many areas supporting tourism.

First, let’s consider Lake Cumberland:

If you have wondered why we have not heard attendance figures of visitors to the lake recently, this is because the reporting system used by the Corps of Engineers has been undergoing an overhaul in recent years according to Ashley Webster of the Corps. But, the last figures published were still very impressive with 3,855,418 persons counted as visiting the lake in one year. With the lake level back up to normal, visitation to the Corps recreation sites has increased dramatically. The campgrounds at Fishing Creek and Waitsboro fill, especially on holidays. The number of skiers and tube use is noticeably greater .too. With the lake back up and getting way up into the creeks again, fishing is also gaining in popularity once more.


Fishing reports included in the Commonwealth-Journal magazines, Discover Lake Cumberland and the two issues of Stay and Play have shown a steady increase in good fishing since the lake is up. Greg Pullen of Lake Cumberland Outdoor Pro Bass, regularly contributes information to ours magazines as to what’s biting, on what baits and where to locate the best catches. He has extolled the “new lake” experience as a result of the lake waters getting up into the creeks and the vast amount of cover provided by the growth of trees and brush on banks that are now submerged. The new underwater cover for spawning fish increases the fish population and improves the fishing. This past year, Greg enthusiastically called this past spring the best season in years-even the best he has seen since he opened his bait shop on Ky. 90 in Bronston.

While the extreme heat of this summer has slowed the fishing, usually the fall season mimics the spring and so there is a lot of optimism for experiencing the best fall fishing ever. According to Greg, if you want to catch fish-come to Lake Cumberland.  If you prefer fishing with a guide, Lake Cumberland has plenty of them to help you get a good catch, especially the large stripers.

Pulaski County Marinas:

Two of the larger marinas on Lake Cumberland are located in Pulaski County, the Burnside Marina on the main lake and Lees Ford Marina  located on Fishing Creek. Both marinas sustained damage to their covered slips from the heavy snows of last winter, but both marinas turned their disasters into positive renovations.

Let’s first look at the progress made at the Burnside Marina. They did a complete remodel over the winter. If you haven’t been there recently, you would be surprised at the marinas new look. The dock and adjacent buildings have all had a new paint job and have the same color scheme. To get to the main dock building you had to walk through  covered boat slip building  A, but now it is a straight shot from shore. The marina building is closer to shore too. Houseboat slips are all to the right of the marina and they have a private gate. The smaller boats have covered slips to the south of the Marina in a newly usable space due to the lake being up. There are approximately 375 plus slips rented, of which about 150 are for houseboats.

Burnside Marina also has a large fleet of rental boats. Their 13 houseboats have experienced a steady rental this past summer. They also rent 4 double decker pontoon boats and 10 standard pontoon boats. They have 2 ski boats and 4 new wave runners. They do have day rentals and it is good to chrck on current rental prices since they vary between high and low volume times. The marina building itself gives evidence of a busy season. It opened with a crowded “ship and shore” store and now is almost empty.

Lee’s Ford Marina is located approximately 4 miles west of Someset. It can be described as a full service  marina with rental cabins, a swimming pool, and tennis court. It’s Harbor Restaurant is very popular. It sits at the top of the hill overlooking the marina and the dining area offers spectacular views of the marina and lake. A shuttle takes tourists from the dock to the restaurant and so boaters can access the restaurant from the lake and get free moorage while having a meal. A large sports bar is also adjacent to the restaurant. From the vantage point of the restaurant you can see the newly built dock buildings  which replaced the damaged ones.

The marina itself is an outstanding facility. It has a large “ship and shore” store with a tremendous variety of goods, from souvenirs, to clothes, to boating accessories, refreshments and a hot meal snack bar. With the legalization of alcoholic beverages for the marina, they added a partially covered and partially open eating area called the “Oar House”.  You can purchase beer in the store and have it with your meal. The Oar House is also used for periodic live entertainment , especially provided on the holidays.

Lee’s Ford Marina doesn’t rent houseboats, but they do have a good sized fleet of other types of rental boats including 14 regular pontoons and two double-deckers. They have 3 ski boats and two jet skis.

Perhaps an exclusive rental boat for the lake is a cabin cruiser that can be rented either for weekdays or weekends.

With the progress from “moist” restaurant alcohol sales, the change to package store sales has also allowed Lee’s Ford Marina to have a good sized package liquor store at the entrance to their resort property.

Boat Sales and Dealerships.

The progress of the Tourist Industry for Pulaski County is also seen in the success of this year’s boat sales.

For the size of the Somerset and Burnside areas, there are several boat dealerships and they all report record or near record sales for this past year. We were only able to contact a few dealerships, but the messages were the same.

C&P Marine is located on Ky 90, a couple of miles from the bridge. They reported decreased sales while the lake was down, but the market has rebounded considerably and they report a good year in sales. They have mostly pontoon boats in their stock. They have observed a shift from the runabouts to pontoons. Earlier versions of pontoon boats rarely were very fast, but that has changed. Pontoon boats have gotten larger and more luxurious and at the same time with design innovations have upped the speeds and smoothed out the ride. There are now three tube models and some with innovations to give lift to the boat and make it faster. The prices may be higher but financing has become easier.

Lake Cumberland Marine is located at the north end of U.S. 27.  General Manager, Casey Howard said that while experiencing a rebound in sales for the past three years, this year has been the best with perhaps as much as a 20 percent increase in sales. By September their sales topped all of last year’s. Lake Cumberland Marine boasts handling eleven lines of pontoon boats with Crest and Premier being their top of the line. They also  have done a good business with their lines of wave runner craft. Also known as PWCs (personal water craft) Lake Cumberland Marine carries top of the line Nautique, Axis and Malibu brands of PWCs.

Lookout Marine is located just north of the Pitman Creek Bridge off U.S. 27. Manager, Jim-Bob said the last three years of boat sales for them have been good and sales this year are definitely up. Recently, Lookout Marine acquired ownership of the Sea Ray dealership property on Ky 90 and they have been handling sales from both locations. Like other dealerships they carry a large inventory of Pontoon boats.

They claim their higher sales are due to the quality of the Bennington model they carry.  Describing the change in types of boats available today, Jim-Bob said you can get a pontoon boat starting at $18,900  to over $100,000 depending on the appointments, special design and type of engine (or even engines) used.

Visitor Welcoming Centers

Important in the effort to draw people to the Lake Cumberland Area is advertising and promotion, or giving helpful information to visitors after they arrive. There are three visitor centers in Pulaski County.

The main promoter to get people here is the Somerset-Pulaski County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Their welcome center is located between Ky. 80 and bypass 80 just east of U.S. 27. A receptionist welcomes visitors, answers questions for them, acquaints them with current activities in the area and they have rows of brochures supplied by area businesses and attractions as information guides. Carolyn Mounce is the Executive Director of the visitors bureau and  is an enthusiastic promoter of area attractions and facilities.

Carolyn’s description of this past tourist season was it was a whale of a good one. The lake was busy,  and spot checks of lodging showed 90% or more occupancy on weekends. The bureau gets its funding for operations and promoting tourism from a transient tax levied on hotel bills. That is up 10% over last year. In fact, June and July’s receipts would alone count for 25% of their year’s budget.

According to Mounce, the visitor center has had much more traffic this year. Visitors from other states brought to Lake Cumberland from the Bureau’s website and description of area attractions come to the visitor center to get more information and to plan their activities for their stay. The last week Somersplash Park was open the visitor center saw a steady stream of visitors wanting to get the $3 discount coupon available there.

There has been an effort by the Visitor Bureau to promote the Lake Cumberland Area as a four-season location since there are activities the year around. There are the beautiful fall colors, fall and winter hiking trails with fishing all year long and producing a bounty in the spring. Spring rains provide challenging river activities for canoeing, kayaking and rafting in the numerous streams and rivers flowing into the lake.

Not to be overlooked as welcoming centers for tourists are the Corps of Engineer visitor center and the historical visitor center for the Battle of Mill Springs. The Corps Visitor Center is located off Boat Dock Road and can be accessed from light 29 on U.S. 27. The visitor center has interpretive displays regarding the work of the rangers, numerous wild-life displays and a replica of Mill Springs mill. There also is a trail with a partial boardwalk for handicapped use that also is interpretive in identifying foliage along the trail.

The Battlefield Visitor Center and Museum is located on West Kentucky 80 next to the  National Cemetery. There is a visitor desk with lots of information about the battle and tour route through several visitor points in the stages of the battle. The visitor center has a gift shop with souvenirs. There is a movie regarding the battle and a library. There is a fee to enter the museum, but it isn’t much and its worth the trip. The museum has life-sized three dimensional displays of civil war encampments, care of wounded and more. A large gun display also shows the weapons used in the Civil War.

Festivals bring in Visitors

Tiffany Bourne is the Community Development Director for Pulaski County and she is involved with the Master Musician Festivals as well as projects aimed at improving tourist recreational facilities. The Master Musician Festival is no longer just a local happening. There is a listing of 3,000 major festivals across the United States and the Somerset Master Musician’s Festival is in the top 54.  While this past year’s festival didn’t have a record attendance, it was among the highest in the last several years. According to Tiffany,  where usually they have been able to get a least one major act (a headliner) to finish the show on Saturday night, this year they had another headliner to finish the Friday night program and also another headliner to perform second to last on Saturday. Reports indicate that the program roster was enthusiastically received. An indication that the Master Musician’s Festival has grown to include more than a regional audience was the fact that with advertising in the Paducah area, a large number of visitors were from that area, even more than from Pulaski County. Just add the Master Musician’s Festival to the many features making the Lake Cumberland area a place to visit which brings in tourist dollars and helps our economy.

Musical and Cultural Programs available to tourists.

Somerset and Pulaski County have gone musical. Retail liquor sales have spawned numerous musical venues at bars and restaurants, giving the area a lively nightlife. In addition to those places, many other musical programs have sprung up associated with special community activities. The Somernites Cruise always brings live music to a stage both for the mini car show on Friday night, but also to the downtown show and shine portion of the car show. The Thursday evening market on the square located around the fountain at the Justice center always has free musical entertainment. And, something new added this year at a neighborhood park at College and Oak streets has been a series of evening outdoor concerts. This has all been added to the Carnegie Center musical programs that feature folk music, the blues and more. On special weekends, like the holidays, other venues such as the Lees Ford Marina bring in the bands. Giving visitors something to do in the evenings when they get off the lake is a plus as a tourist attraction.

The Center and The Mariott

The Center for Rural Development brings in rafts of tourists due to its modern theater and convention facilities. Conventions bring in many visitors who use motels, restaurants and shop. Looking back 20 years some may have doubted the then 14 million dollar price tag for the building as paying for itself. However, just 5 years after it was built a billboard proclaimed Center activities had an 80 million dollar pay back in tourist dollars. Besides the use of the exhibition halls for conventions and special programs, the large theater has benefited locals and visitors with musical entertainment, plays and even Broadway musicals.

 Shortly, the Center for Rural Development will have the Mariott Courtyard  Motel as it’s next door neighbor with the prospect of bringing even more activities to the Center. To have a first class motel right next door where guests can just walk across the parking lot to Center events is a real plus. Laura Glover who is in charge of Sales, Events and Marketing for the Center says the motel will add flexibility and convenience for visitors and is sure to bring in many more events to the Center. Residual benefits are also seen for other lodging facilities that will pick up more business too.

The construction has been moving ahead rapidly and the target date for opening is December 12. This is special, according to Glover since that will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Center. This will make the opening a big event. Although the motel is still under construction, they are already getting bookings. The prospects according to Laura Glover, is that this new expansion can make the Center for Rural Development, not just a regional hub, but host to statewide and national events. Is that not exciting for continued economic growth through tourism in this area?

Ag-Tourism adds to local tourist attractions.

At the outset of this article it was mentioned that agriculture has been one of the strengths of the Pulaski County economy that has helped weather some economic storms. But agriculture has changed dramatically in both types of crops being produced and the methods of producing them. Also, many farmers have seen the advantage of getting into direct sales in the retail market. During spring, summer and fall we see farmers displaying and selling their products for each season. The peak of sales usually is in summer when people flock to produce stands for fresh vegetables. The Commonwealth has also encouraged farmers to include grapes as a crop and wineries have followed. This also has an tourist related economic impact on our economy as the produce dollars are added to it.

Way before the recent push into ag-tourism, Pulaski County had a pioneer family get into the apple growing business. We can’t talk about ag-tourism without recognizing the 150 and more years of family participation in the apple and peach growing and selling business. To this day the Haney Appledale Farm does a brisk business in selling many varieties of apples (40 at last count) and bringing in customers from counties around. Weekends are especially busy at the Appledale Farm this time of the year. Fresh apples are sold, but also apple products such as fresh cider, jellies and jams and a great deal more. An eating area is tastefully decorated for customers to sample their apple pies freshly made each day. Step in and the aroma will get your taste buds drooling. Haney’s is located on Kentucky 80 and 8 miles west of Somerset. You can buy applies by the bushel, peck and half-a-peck. You can also have the fun of going out and picking our own-a nice recipe for family fun.

Parks offer tourist a wide variety of recreation fun.

The Somerset Park District continues to forge ahead with improvements to welcome tourists and locals to its many fine facilities. David Dorsey, the Park’s new manager for the last two years, filled us in on recent improvements. The challenging Frisbee golf course in the depth of Rocky Hollow is a beautiful deeply shaded area. This past year saw the course host a national tournament that had 60 participants from 4 states. The location was a hit with the visitors and will probably be used again next year for an even larger number of participants.

The Parks department closed the racket ball facility in downtown Somerset and moved the weight and exercise room to the Rocky Hollow Recreation Building where it has seen a large increase in usage.

Many who use the walking track and other facilities there, add a trip to the weight and exercise room in their visit, adding 40 to 50 people using it daily. The fully equipped weight room is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.

The recreation building also has a meeting or party room that can be rented and also a very large exercise room used to give group lessons in things such as aerobics, stress conditioning, kettlebell, strength and tone, pilates and yoga. For those with a regular park membership, classes generally run $4 extra per session. Out of town visitors are welcome on a complimentary basis.  The exercise room is also used for two square dancing sessions a week, every Tuesday and the first two Saturdays of each month.

The large gym at the Rocky Hollow Park is also kept busy with boy and girl AAU League play. Last year there were 40 girls teams and 44 boys teams participating from 8 or 9 different counties.

The Somersport Park hosts spring and fall soccer leagues starting with 3 and 4 year-olds  to 12 year olds. This past spring there were 721 participants. There are no fees for league play, only a one-time $10 sign up fee.

A new facility added to the Rocky Hollow Park is an amphitheater. The amphitheater can be accessed from a lane off Central Avenue or from the parking lot off Central Avenue. A new covered pavilion faces several tiers of seating areas that can hold hundreds of people. So far it has only been used once for a musical program, but a play is also being arranged for this fall. It should see a lot of use in the months to come.

Several small neighborhood parks also provide playground space, entertainment areas, horseshoe pits,dog walking path and pedestrian walking paths and exercise equipment. A number of the parks have water features and fountains where children can play in the water. A complete listing of all parks, large and small,l can be obtained at the Rocky Hollow Recreation building outlining their location and specific facilities.

Perhaps the golden crown of Somerset Park facilities is the SomerSplash water park located off old U.S. 27 north of the city and just south of Paul’s Discount store. The SomerSplash park opened in 2006 and it is still going strong in attendance   Attendance  is at the mercy of the weather and despite a relatively short season the park does a brisk business. Daily ticket holders have increased while season passes have declined. Steven Sims, park manager, says this is an indication that the park is getting more out-of-towners and that is good for the economy. Out of towners tend to stop and talk to the park personnel and express appreciation for the park, saying they wish they had one in their town. It has been learned that people not only come from neighboring counties, but regulars even come from as far as Nashville. One regular customer comes from Lexington every weekend, goes home at night to let the dog out and comes back again the next day. SomerSplash park is a member of The World Waterpark Association which has 2,500 member parks.. It’s executive board awarded the Somerset park special recognition last year, giving them one of only two Executive Board Awards given. The second award was given to a park in South Korea. Our park earned the award by promoting good health for young people through good physical activity. They did this by opening up the park to the first 400  children free for an all day pass on the longest day of the year and called it  their “Longest Day of Play Event.”.

SomerSplash water park is one of the largest water parks in the state, with originally having the longest lazy river ride. They also have a kiddie pool, a bowl slide, speed slide, tube slide and 3 body slides, a wave pool and a toddler wading pool.

All the Somerset park facilities are known for being super clean, with clean restrooms and other facilities.

Another noteworthy park system in Pulaski County is in Burnside. Alcohol sales revenues were put toward improvements in the park system. They have two picnic shelters that can be rented, two ball fields, new playground equipment and tennis court. Many of Burnside’s special activities are centered around the park such as the September Point Isabelle Festival which featured live music, BBQ, jump and jack inflatables and more.

Pulaski County Park continues to add to its amenities and perhaps is the most popular park in the county for having groups use picnic shelters, of which they have seven. They regularly rent the two large shelters near the beginning of the park, but the smaller shelters situated near the lake also see a lot of usage. Recently, the park hosted the 1016 Lake Cumberland Open, a PDGA B-Tier Event with a $500 added cash prize in a two 18-hole Frisbee golf tournament.

Park improvements include the building 6 new vacation cabins, 2 two bedroom units and 4 one bedroom units. The bedrooms have queen beds, but each of the cabins also have two lofts with a double bed in each.  New developments in the park will include a swimming beach. According to Tiffany Bourne the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce sponsors a leadership conference and participants each year embark on a group project. The 2014 group’s project was to install a courtesy dock at the Pulaski County Park along with the beach. The dock has already been installed and now the beach is to be completed and to be ready for next tourist season.

What else can be said? Somerset and Pulaski County have the welcome mat out for tourist in so many ways. This is a real boon to the local economy, bringing in tourist dollars, providing jobs and generally making this area a good place to live. That’s progress!!


By Edgar Spitzke Commonwealth Journal