The Murray County, GA team attended the 2017 Ringgold, GA Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative workshop as a disconnected group comprised of community members ranging from Arts Council’s President to a Water Commission’s General Manager. Representing a community with a growing downtown and arts scene, the dedicated volunteers applied in hopes of learning more about how to coordinate efforts between their organizations and how to consolidate their county’s image.
At the workshop, the diverse team found themselves immersed in inspirational stories about the possibilities for their community from within their team, as well as from workshop speakers and case studies. As they started to compare themselves to other gateways, the team realized the value of their natural assets. Acting as a gateway to Chattahoochee Bend State Park, Fort Mountain State Park, and Grassy Mountain, the community was able to identify their rich outdoor recreation opportunities as a focal point of their overall appeal. In combination with their up-and-coming tourism attractions, such as their downtown bandstand, the team concluded that they needed to put together a way to unify these offerings, and the idea for a branding project was a natural answer.
Following the workshop, the team received a $7,500 seed grant to carry out its branding project. Thanks to the level of collaboration and coordination that the workshop was able to build between the various community organizations, work on the branding project progressed quickly, and the team had a completed guide by October 2018. The seed grant also enabled the team to install a number of signage and wayfinding projects based on the branding guide, including a set of eighteen banners for use in the county’s downtowns. On top of this, adoption of guide-based logos has been high amongst community organizations, seeing the creation of new logos for the City of Chatsworth, the City of Eton, and Murray County’s Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Authority.
However, progress on further signage projects has been a site of struggle in the years following the workshop. While the team had hoped to have signs installed alongside the nearby U.S. 411, other projects have eclipsed these branding efforts. Funding struggles have also meant that expanding capacity for tourists has been difficult, given that much of the critical work being done in this regard is either done privately or on a volunteer basis. Regardless, the community has been able to leverage its existing outdoor recreation opportunities with great success, in part thanks to increased promotion and aesthetic cohesion enabled by the seed grant project. With continued collaboration across arts, town leadership, and land management, Murray County is slated to remain a popular gateway.