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home : news : news Sunday, May 29, 2016

1/9/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Former chamber director O'Connell working to build county tourism program

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

Former director of the DeWitt Chamber of Commerce JoElla O'Connell is hoping her efforts to build a local tourism program will pay off and become an official department Clinton County government.

O'Connell, who found herself out of work after the chamber merged last year with the DeWitt Development Co., has been working since the fall on an effort to promote tourism in the county, with a focus on smaller, rural communities that don't have the funding or staff to tackle such a project on their own.

O'Connell approached the Clinton County Board of Supervisors with the idea last September and was encouraged to seek grant funding for the project since the county budget already had been set.

The Clinton County Conservation Foundation supported the concept and applied for a gaming grant through the Clinton County Development Association.

The foundation was awarded $20,000 to fund office equipment, brochures, a website and advertising for the tourism project, and O'Connell solicited the city councils of the 14 municipalities in Clinton County for contributions to use as matching funds for the grant.

Ultimately, nine communities agreed to contribute $500-$1,000 toward the effort - Calamus, Charlotte, Clinton, Delmar, DeWitt, Grand Mound, Lost Nation, Low Moor and Wheatland.

Now, O'Connell is working with two students from Ashford Community College to get the tourism promotion up and running in the hopes the Clinton County Board of Supervisors will fund a permanent tourism position in fiscal year 2014.

She has written a proposed budget, job description and funding request for the board of supervisors and is in the process of developing community brochures and a website to promote activities in Clinton County.

She's also planning to publish an annual calendar of events that would be placed at state visitor centers and to run advertisements through the Eastern Iowa Tourism Association and Our Iowa magazine.

O'Connell said she decided to undertake the initiative after she had a discussion with a Camanche resident about the need for more support of local events.

"We do need to realize what's going on, and we do need to support each other," she said.

She and her student interns, Courtney Blaber and Jenny Engnell, have traveled to communities across the county to take photos and collect information that will be used to develop tri-fold brochures for each member.

She is working with F&B Communications to develop a website and Facebook page for Clinton County tourism, and she is planning a weekly e-mail blast that will promote upcoming community events, from fire department fundraisers to the annual summer celebrations held in cities such as Calamus, Charlotte and Low Moor.

"I really encourage people to contact me to get on the e-mail blast. Anyone who has a community event, I want to know about it. Anyone who wants to know what's happening can get on the list," she said.

The website will have pages with photos and information on each community and also will list a calendar of events.

Before approaching the county supervisors with the tourism idea, O'Connell and her husband spent several weekends touring the county in June, and she said she was surprised about the number of assets she didn't know about, even as a county resident.

"There's just a lot out there people don't even know about," she said.

With promotion in print and on the web, residents and visitors alike can learn about opportunities for camping and other outdoor activities at places like Sherman Park and the Charlotte campground or plan a trip to Grand Mound to see the only wood-frame fire station still standing in Iowa, she said.

The Clinton County Eco Tourism Center at Rock Creek Park, with its large aquarium, nature displays and access to myriad outdoor recreation, is another great asset that hasn't garnered the attention it deserves, O'Connell said.

"It's a jewel right here in our county," she said.

"That's what I want to do, is let people know what's right here in our own backyard," she said.

O'Connell estimates it will cost around $70,000 per year to manage a full-time tourism office.

Budget requests were due to the Clinton County Board of Supervisors Jan. 4, and the board will hear budget presentations and hold budget workshops throughout the month.

The final county budget must be authorized by March 15, but it remains unclear whether the supervisors will find room in the limited county budget to carve out funding for the tourism program.

"Hopefully the board of supervisors will fund it, and we can help the small communities that don't have the staff and funds to do it on their own," O'Connell said.

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