Good Lord, let them have an adventure

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 3, 2006

Over in Newport News they have an Interpretive Center. Visitors can walk around and see exhibits of Chesapeake Bay, tidewater, swamps and the like. A few sad pens of sad animals and ponds of local fish are there, samples of grass, shells, and all other flora and fauna to give one the feeling of nature. But we have a genuine swamp called Dismal, the real thing; let the tourists experience the real thing.

Give them a map, send them on a real adventure; don’t blow millions on just another Interpretive Center and stick it across the street from a hotel. Where’s the mystery in that?

If the swamp is not already enticing enough, give the millions to the small visitor center already located there. They can build more elevated trails so tourists can actually smell the muck, see the trees, worry about a black bear attacking them, the snakes crawling up the leg of a pantsuit, and swat a few mosquitoes. They can handle it.

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Tourists today are fortunate if they can actually experience any national park because they are so crowded. That won’t happen here … for one thing the place could be better signed so the swamp and its already existing visitor center can easily be found. They have plenty of parking and a potty facility. But with a few extra bucks, not millions, they could be better. Expand what they have, not try to duplicate the sense of it in downtown Suffolk. Are we nuts?

The wrong home

Deme Panagopolis was correct when he pointed out to our council that the old courthouse is not a place for our department of tourism to hang out. We have already spent a ton to fix up and furnish the Prentis House, that at the time of the decision was the ideal spot for it to be. Then suddenly it was too cramped for the staff and hordes of tourists. Was that great planning or what? It would be more sensible to make the cultural center, which will cost us a million plus annually, the tourist visitors’ center. It’s right in the center of downtown and the tourists can while the time away there after their exhausting day at the swamp.

Some think that tourists only want the best available hotel to open their suitcases. Nonsense. A good clean motel will do just fine, and leave some money for eating in Suffolk’s hundred or so restaurants. Perhaps visiting businessmen on an expense account will always opt for a Hilton, but most tourists are on the lean and have a bunch of kids to bed and feed. The only times I stayed in the best available hotels was when that’s where the tour bus folks had arranged to stop. And that’s because it was in the center of the most interesting part of the city. — usually where old warehouses had been turned into kooky dining facilities. Our finest hotel is hardly located in the most interesting part of town, if there is any interesting part of town.

From this palaver I have concluded that the old courthouse should be leased out to some retail entrepreneur who will undertake the risk. The visitor’ center should remain where it is; it was their choice, or move to the cultural center.

And forget spending money on a swamp interpretive center so the hordes of tourists can keep their feet dry. Let them get their blood up by risking their lives in the real Dismal Swamp.

C’mon council, you are already allowing some crazy spending of our tax dollars. Suck up your courage and take the city manager on, heads to head. Sure he means well; it is his job to manage our growth, but make us grow, make us proud of our shining city, the jewel of the Nansemond, and give downtowners what they want.

But if you do not really listen, not lip service, to those in tax pain, part of your constituency, you are not doing your job. Five cents tax rate decrease is only a start.

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