Visitors Want to ‘Come on Down’ to Arkansas With AM-Plains-Tourism
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Folks from all over are heeding Bill Clinton’s convention-speech call to ″come on down″ to Arkansas, state tourism officials say.
The state Department of Parks and Tourism has been flooded with calls from all over the country since the Arkansas governor issued the invitation last week during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.
″Friday and Monday, it was just unreal the calls we were getting, and they’re still coming in,″ said Chris Nelson, a department travel consultant.
Most are particularly interested in Hope, where Clinton was born, and Hot Springs, where he grew up, Ms. Nelson said.
″I talked to one young woman ... who said she wanted to move here until November, just to work in the campaign headquarters and travel Arkansas,″ she said.
The Clinton-Gore national campaign headquarters is in Little Rock, the state capital.
Tour guides in Hot Springs already are planning Clinton-was-here bus tours for tourists curious about Clinton’s former home and old hangouts.
″Their plan is to go to Hope, where he was born, and drive on to Hot Springs to see where he lived on Scully Street, where he went to school and where he spent his teen-age years,″ said Marla DeLille, sales director for the Hot Springs tourism and convention bureau. ″We’re getting with some of the people he went to high school with and discussing some of their hangouts to try and work it into the tour.″
In his convention speech, Clinton said he had taken one of the poorest states in the nation and lifted it up.
″And so I say to those who would criticize Arkansas: come on down,″ Clinton said. Arkansans are struggling with problems, the governor said, ″but you’ll also see a lot of great people doing amazing things. And you might even learn a thing or two.″
Arkansans hope Clinton may attract tourists the same way Plains, Ga., did when Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976. Thousands visited the small town each day, but the numbers later shriveled along with Carter’s popularity.
Hope, its population just under 10,000, is about 100 miles southwest of Little Rock. Hot Springs, population just over 36,000, is a 50-mile drive from the capital in the same general direction.
Hot Springs bustles during midsummer with tourists visiting its national park, lakes, natural hot springs and downtown bathhouses, ″but this is a new twist that we’re excited about,″ Ms. DeLille said.
Aside from being Clinton’s birthplace, Hope offers itself as the watermelon capital of the world, its annual three-day watermelon festival drawing nearly 100,000 visitors. City Manager David Meriwether says the number could swell to 150,000 or more this year with the national exposure Hope is getting.
The city’s immediate concern is planning for extra traffic control and security for the Aug. 13-16 festival, Meriwether said. City officials also are planning for the possibility of having a native son as president.
″We want to position ourselves to take maximum benefit of what could be long-term exposure,″ Meriwether said.