With memories of the long winter now starting to fade and the Memorial Day weekend behind us, the time has come to begin planning for summer.
There certainly is no shortage of activities nearby or across the state, and their popularity can be seen in the bottom line. According to an annual study released earlier this month, Kentucky’s tourism and travel industry was responsible for $12.5 billion in direct and indirect spending in 2013, which was a 2.6 percent increase over 2012. Overall, these businesses employ nearly 176,000 people.
Locally, Floyd County’s tourism and travel businesses generated $70 million in economic development in 2013. That was the third-highest total among the 15 counties that compose our tourism region.
Some of Kentucky’s key assets are state resort parks like Jenny Wiley, which is part of a system that features 49 parks overall. Money is limited in the upcoming two-year budget, but I’m proud that the General Assembly was able to set aside $2 million extra for park improvements.
For those wanting to take in more of the outdoors, Kentucky also has close to 900,000 acres of national forests, more than 50 lakes open for boating or fishing and 12,000 miles of trails.
The Bourbon Trail offers a different type of trip for anyone interested in knowing more about an important part of Kentucky’s heritage. New distilleries are opening regularly, and over the past five years, nearly 2.5 million people from every state and 25 countries have made at least one stop along the way.
This month, incidentally, is the 50th anniversary of Congress’s declaring bourbon to be unique to the United States, and they might as well have limited that just to Kentucky, since we’re home to 95 percent of the world’s production.
For those wanting to travel around the state, there are several milestone events being celebrated this year.
In southeastern Kentucky, for example, descendants of Daniel Boone’s family will join with many others next month to re-enact that pioneer’s early work to make the Cumberland Gap more accessible to settlers nearly 240 years ago.
Both the Belle of Louisville and the Governor’s Mansion turn 100 this year. The Belle is the world’s oldest Mississippi-style steamboat still in operation, and the mansion is one of just a handful of executive residences across the country featuring public tours. Its predecessor, located less than two miles away, is worth visiting as well, since it pre-dates the opening of the White House.
Closer to home, the Kentucky Coal Museum in Harlan County turns 20 next month.
Kentucky has also garnered a lot of attention for its outdoor productions. The Jenny Wiley Theater is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a full schedule in the months ahead. It’s also the only professional theater in Eastern Kentucky that has year-round performances.
The Pioneer Playhouse in Danville turns 65 this year, and two of its famous alumni include actors Lee Majors and John Travolta, who appeared there when he was 15.
The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival and “Stephen Foster – the Musical” have also been around for decades. The former, located in Louisville, is the country’s oldest free festival dedicated to the famous playwright, and the latter, based in Bardstown, celebrates the composer of our most famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Pike County is home to one of the state’s newest summer outdoor dramas as it readies for a second year of a performance based on the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
Another famous “home” worth taking in is the restaurant where Colonel Sanders perfected his original recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s located in Corbin and has been remodeled to mirror what it looked like when he manned the kitchen in the 1940s.
Kentucky is used to having the eyes of the world on it in May, when the Kentucky Derby is run, but a couple of major events are planned for August as well. This year, the PGA Championship, one of professional golf’s four majors, will take place at Valhalla in Louisville, and three years from now, on August 21, 2017, Hopkinsville will be the best place in the world to witness a major solar eclipse.
If you would like to know more about some of the events I’ve mentioned, the state’s tourism website is a great place to start. It can be found at www.kentuckytourism.com.