Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 29, 2022

Grundy County a model for embracing natural assets

Mountain Goat Trail connects Monteagle with Sewanne and the University of the South on the path of the old Mountain Goat railroad, which carried coal and passengers up Monteagle Mountain. - Photograph provided

Grundy County residents are proud of their natural assets, but they’d never really thought about turning them into a lure for visitors until recently, says County Mayor Michael Brady.

That’s changed now, and the county has brought on its first staff member solely dedicated to tourism.

“We had seen what happened when an industry went away, and we didn’t want to become a ghost town,” Brady adds. “So, we decided to change our economic landscape. We have so much natural beauty here, and we’re within a one-day drive of 65% of the nation’s population, so it just makes sense to utilize those assets.”

The county – which stretches from Altamont and Beersheba Springs in the north to Monteagle and Tracy City in the south and includes the popular Savage Gulf State Natural Area – is looking for a slow build, and even so has been pushed along by the skyrocketing interest in adventure tourism.

Much of the focus has gone into asset evaluation and allocation, community buy-in, partnerships between state and local officials and much more, he says.

“One of the best comments I’ve heard recently was a lady who said that ‘build it and they will come’ isn’t the right approach. Instead, we work with what we have and plan for what is coming.

“That’s why I had to get out of the way. I wear a lot of hats, and it was just crazy to think I could handle marketing, social media and all the support tourism needs. So, we have created a board and gotten it out of the mayor’s office so it can keep the ball rolling as future mayors come along.”

While he may be new to the tourism game, Brady’s gotten savvy enough to make sure he rattles off a few things to see and do in Grundy County during an interview opportunity.

In short order he can list enhancements to Stone Doors Annex park; newly opened segments of the 5-mile Mountain Goat Trail, developed in partnership with the state and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy; Bagenstoss Farms, which offers zip lines and other adventure activities; and the hugely popular Bluegrass Underground entertainment venue at The Caverns in Pelham.

The county worked with AmeriCorps to help create its tourism board, and Dominic Gialdini, the volunteer who was chosen to come and kick off the work, was so taken with the area that he has become the Grundy County tourism coordinator.

Brady says more visitors might also translate into more residents, and he’s appreciative of county and state leaders who bought into what tourism can do for his community.

“The county commission backed this idea, and they put some of the few eggs we have into this tourism basket,” Brady says. “They appropriated the money for the tourism coordinator, and that meant that Dominic could stay here and continue programming for us. A lot of things are popping up because people are seeing the benefit of bringing in tourists.

“It means jobs, and a growing tax base to provide needed services, from more restaurants to health care. This community has really embraced this, and we are ready for folks to come and see our beautiful area.”