Etowah County: A Hidden Treasure - WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

Etowah County: A Hidden Treasure

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© Danielle Deavours © Danielle Deavours

Our trip to Etowah County was unlike any other. While I had been to the county when I was very young, I didn't remember the beauty and natural wonders that the county has. It's something that now I will never forget after this trip.

We started our trip by heading to the county seat, Gadsden. The picturesque town has a quirky, fun feel to it. Each shop building has its own unique look from the outside in, and the downtown is full of great shops for anything you could be looking for. The push to shop local is an important part of the town, which can be seen immediately by the Shop, Eat, Sip, Play, and Learn Local signs that surround the downtown strip. It's also evident in the way the leadership pushes events like First Friday.

First Friday is an event unlike any other I've seen in a small community. The entire Broad Street (which is Gadsden's main strip) shuts down on First Friday, allowing vendors to come to the street and sell their wares to the visitors. It seems like a fun, friendly atmosphere where shops get to show off their goods and people get to experience a unique shopping experience. First Friday is about more than just shopping, though. It features games and entertainment as well. A concert is held at night, and the family-friendly event really encompasses the spirit of Gadsden.

While we were in Gadsden, we visited the beautiful Coosa River that runs around the town. Boaters were enjoying the sunny day, and so were we. We met with the town's mayor, Sherman Guyton, first. He was very knowledgeable about the city's history and even its future. Mayor Guyton has big hopes for his community, and the progress the city has made during his tenure as mayor shows his passion for leadership. Right now, the city of Gadsden's downtown area has a 90% occupancy rate, a number unheard of during this recession. That speaks to the leadership's ability to bring business in, the community's willingness to shop local, and business leaders' high expectations for the city. The stats don't let the city down. In fact, Area Magazine, a publication devoted to highlighting the economic development of the Southeast, ranks Gadsden in the top 15 cities in Alabama and top 50 in the Southeast. They even ranked number one in business recession busting practices. Mayor Guyton says the thing that made those rankings possible is people working together. He says the city's leadership and even its citizens are coming together to create a better community, and that drive to make Gadsden a top city in the nation will continue to make it prosper.

We also talked to some downtown shop owners while we were in the county seat. Connie of Connie's Coneys was one of the friendliest business owners we ran into. She has a passion for what she does, but says it's not about selling hot dogs for her; it's more about the spirit of the people she serves. Connie says she's proud to run her shop in Gadsden, and she loves living there as well. She says the spirit of the community is what's working in the city.

Our next stop was to the county courthouse. There we met with the president of the Etowah County commission Joey Statum. Commissioner Statum was extremely friendly and passionate about his position in the county. He explained the economic development of Etowah County, and he says his biggest project since being in office is a megasite that's located on the county line between Etowah County and St. Clair County. A megasite is a big piece of land that is ready and able to be developed by a large manufacturer or company. Statum says this megasite is so important to the county because it will allow a big company to move its production to Etowah County, thereby generating revenue and jobs. Statum says the county's leadership working together is what made this project possible, and he says he will continue to work hard to get that megasite filled.

Our last stop in Etowah County was to one of the county's hidden treasures. Noccalula Falls is a natural beauty that everyone in the state of Alabama should visit at least once. The waterfall has historic meaning to the county. The legend says a great Indian chief had a young daughter Noccalula, who was famed for her beauty and character. The Indian chief tried to arrange a marriage for Noccalula, who was already in love with a brave from her own tribe. When her father tried to force her to marry another chief and drove her lover from the tribe, Noccalula jumped from the falls, ending her sorrows. The chief was overcome with grief and named the falls in his daughter's honor. But that isn't the only historical meaning that the falls has for Etowah County. The natural treasure has also brought a lot of money into the county through tourism. The falls has been a popular place to come for decades, and now that the county has dedicated resources to the falls, it has been developed into one of the state's best tourism destinations. Tourism director Hugh Stump says there are a lot of things to do at Noccalula Falls besides gazing at the natural beauty of the falls. There are also hike and bike trails, cabins, and even a chapel for weddings. Riding along the trails, we discovered just how picturesque and lovely the site was. You can check out pictures of our trip to Noccalula at our slideshow on our website, Overall, tourism is definitely a big part of the economic success of Etowah County, and the falls is just one place that tourists can visit.

Our trip to Etowah County was a great one. From the friendly people we met to the natural wonders of Noccalula Falls, we were able to see the resources the county has to offer first-hand. The county is also growing business-wise, and the leadership is driven to make the cities in Etowah County some of the best in the South. It's no wonder that Gadsden is called the "City of Champions," and Etowah County is ranked as one of the top counties in Alabama. I would suggest making this county a top spot for your next vacation or daytrip so you too can experience the Southern hospitality and natural resources the county has to offer.

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