Pickens County Vision 2025 gets $5,000 grant

PICKENS — Pickens County Vision 2025 Coalition’s receipt of a $5,000 grant award was announced at a joint press conference held by Gerald Sweitzer, past chairman of Pickens County Vision 2025, Michael Sheriff, current chairman of Pickens County Vision 2025, and Pickens City Administrator Katherine Brackett on Wednesday, November 17, at Pickens City Hall.

The Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative Grant will fund a two-day workshop and facilitate the development of a comprehensive natural and cultural heritage tourism strategy for Pickens.

National funders of the grant include The Appalachian Regional Commission, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Conservation Fund and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Pickens County Vision 2025’s was the only grant proposal accepted in the state of South Carolina. The grant is for $5,000 with a matching amount from the community.

The goal of the Natural and Cultural Tourism Grant workshop is to create a plan that capitalizes on Pickens’ vast natural resources, cultural assets and historic richness to increase tourism.

“The development of cultural tourism in Pickens is going to equal economic development,” said Sweitzer.

The geographical locations on which workshop participants will focus are the city of Pickens and north to Highway 11. The grant calls for workshop members to include the role of arts and natural resources in developing a tourism strategy for Pickens.

Sassafras Mountain, which has the highest elevation point in the state, is a currently untapped resource with potential as a major tourism attraction for Pickens. These are the types of natural resources workshop members will identify for utilization of a tourism plan, in addition to identifying ways in which art and cultural heritage can be used to revitalize downtown Pickens.

The workshop, which should take place sometime during the first quarter of 2011, is another major accomplishment under the larger umbrella of the Pickens County Vision 2025 Plan. Sheriff reviewed the progress and other accomplishments that have taken place in the first three years of the Vision 2025 inception.

The Pickens County Vision 2025 Plan is comprised of 89 objectives that have been grouped into five goal areas: A Planned Community, A Working Community, A Healthy Community, A Sense of Place and An Educated Community. Highlighted here are just a few of the many accomplishments made thus far:

Vision 2025 partnered with the United Way Community Impact Task Forces on education development and financial stability. Members of Vision 2025 served on both task forces. Funded by the United Way, plans were implemented.

• Promoted bike — pedestrian plan and funding for Easley. The Sense of Place subcommittee played an active role in helping the city with obtaining grant funding and having new bikeways marked on city streets, which are currently in use.

• Assisted the city of Pickens with development of a local vision process to establish their identity. The city is currently implementing a plan to bring new business and tourism to the downtown area.

• Convened Pickens, Anderson and Oconee county leaders to consider an increase in equine events and facilities for the three counties. The equine industry represents a $63 million economic impact in the three counties. Nearly 100 people gathered at the Anderson Civic Center to engage Clemson and the Garrison Arena in a tri-county equine venture, and a non-profit organization was created with a board of directors membership representing each county. Several more current and past members of Vision 2025 are serving on the board of the new S.C. Upstate Equine Council.

• Joined with Tri-County Technical College to work toward creating a tri-county business incubator. After touring several small business incubators, members arranged a webinar with a leading small business incubator to learn the best practice for proceeding with funding and development. Tri-County is currently seeking funding for a feasibility study on behalf of Vision 2025.

Among all the accomplishments made by Pickens County Vision 2025 in the last three years, the Sense of Place subcommittee, headed by Easley Chamber of Commerce President Kent Dykes and Erin Nuntz, has made the greatest progress in facilitating groups and organizations in the county to adopt some of the 20 objectives within the subcommittee’s goal area.

“The role of the Pickens County Vision implementation team is to facilitate local governments, organizations, individuals and the business community to adopt and implement the individual objectives,” Sheriff said. “We don’t care who gets the credit. Any group can work on the objectives for the benefit of the county, and we will publicize their accomplishment.”

Also weighing in on the progress of Pickens County Vision 2025 Implementation Team was Sweitzer.

“One of the most interesting developments for the Vision 2025 team has been joining with both Anderson and Oconee counties on two objectives common in the Vision Plan for all three counties,” he said. “We brought together key people in both Anderson and Oconee that were interested in joint development of the equestrian potential in our counties and the creation of a small business incubator.”

Both of these initiatives are currently being implemented.

Members of the workshop planning committee include Sweitzer, Brackett, Wayne Kelley, Chairman of the Pickens Cultural Commission and Ellen Kochansky, Executive Director of The Rensing Center. Other participating organizations of note include Table Rock State Park, Appalachian Council of Government, Pickens Historic Society, Birchwood Center for Arts & Folklife, Pickens County Museum of Art & History and the Pickens Chamber of Commerce.