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Georgia Hopes to Turn Blue and Gray into Green | Business

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Georgia Hopes to Turn Blue and Gray into Green

ATLANTA -- Georgia is gearing up for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, expecting it to be the most significant heritage tourism opportunity in coming years.

The commemoration is being called "CW150" and will run from 2011 to 2015 to coincide with the war, which lasted from 1861 to 1865.

Over the next four years, the state will spend close to $3 million promoting Civil War tourism, including roughly $726,000 this year.

Events are planned at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the Atlanta Cyclorama, Stone Mountain Park and the Atlanta History Center.

Kennesaw Mountain, which already gets about 1.4 million visitors a year, could "easily see between 25 percent to 40 percent increase in visitation," said Superintendent Stanley Bond.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, just south of Chattanooga, expects to see increased attendance, said Sam Weddle, acting park superintendent.

Chickamauga has about 1 million visitors annually, and sees its biggest spike when the 1863 battle is re-enacted each September, "but we're expecting to have an even greater interest in that for the 150th," he said. "We hope to have larger amounts of programming and participation by the public."

But some say Georgia is lagging behind in turning the blue and gray into green.

"Virginia has thoroughly embraced the Civil War commemoration," said Mitch Bowman, executive director of Civil War Trails in Richmond, Va., which puts together historic trails in five states.

Georgia is not one of them, he said. "Virginia is going all out."

Tennessee is probably No. 2 in Civil War commemoration, he said.

Virginia may be for lovers, but its big business is Civil War tourism.

"In terms of visitor spending, $1 out of every $7 is spent by someone engaged in Civil War history in Virginia," said Richard Lewis, public relations manager for Virginia Tourism Corp.

The mean spending per person, per day in Virginia is $52, but the visitor who includes Civil War history as part of his or her travel experience spends $80 per day, Lewis said. The median spending per travel party in Virginia is $145 per day, but those who engage in Civil War activities spend more than twice that amount -- $311 per day, he added.

"That market is lucrative," he said. "They tend to stay longer than the average tourist and spend more money per day."

Bowman thinks Georgia hasn't done as good a job of piecing its Civil War story together.

"What's missing in Georgia is, it's great when you get to Kennesaw Mountain, but there's nothing to tell you about the railroad, the little highways and byways and how [the armies] got there," Bowman said. "Georgia has missed a huge opportunity to get a heritage trail statewide."

Georgia has never really promoted, or preserved, its Civil War sites, said J.D. Humphries III, president of the Civil War Round Table of Atlanta and head of the Atlanta office of law firm Stites & Harbison PLLC.

He doesn't believe the state will capitalize on the tourism dollars from the Civil War anniversary the way Virginia has and will.

"I just don't see any movement toward taking commercial advantage of it," Humphries said.

Charlie Crawford, president of Georgia Battlefields Association Inc. and a member of the state's steering committee for the Civil War 150, also believes the state was slow to plan and disseminate information for the event.

"The state has already lost tourism dollars," he said. "There will be increased tourism once 2011 gets here, but it will be in spite of the state, rather than because of the state."

But Holly Bass, CEO of the Cobb County Convention & Visitors Bureau, thinks Cobb, and the state, will see significant tourism dollars as the state rolls out its campaign and more activity begins around the anniversary.

When events happen at Kennesaw Mountain, for example, restaurants and hotels in the area do better, she said.

And the Civil War 150th "will have more of a prolonged impact," Bass said. "It's not just one event. It will be a series of things happening throughout those four years."

The state's marketing campaign officially kicks off Oct. 9 at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead with the launch of "Crossroads of Conflict - A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia," a book written by Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell.

Georgia's website for the commemoration, www.GACivilWar.org, with information on events and activities, is expected to launch at the end of October.

The state has also created a map guide, complete with global system positioning coordinates, so people can find Civil War sites more easily. The map is available at state visitor's centers and through the website.

The Civil War is a tourism draw unto itself, but the 150th anniversary should draw more interest, because it is not just focusing on battles, said Kevin Langston, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development's tourism division.

"We want it to be more than about the battlefields," Langston said. "People want to understand what food was popular, what music was popular, what was it like to live on a farm when all the men were gone. That allows us to talk about the whole experience, not just the battles."

And that is where even more tourism dollars will come, said Brian S. Wills, director of Kennesaw State University's Center for the Study of the Civil War Era.

"We're probably going to do a better job of a complete picture of the Civil War, and that means there is something in there for everyone, and why it will be a good tourism draw."

There are so many aspects of the war, which includes politics, diplomacy, social issues "that will cover ground that will interest people outside of Georgia to visit Georgia, and interest people in Georgia to visit other areas of the state," Wills said.