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Area tourism sites get $18K in state grants
Funds to be used to add new employees, complete projects
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Tourism sites

North Georgia Canopy Tour

Where: 5290 Harris Road, Lula

Contact: 770-869-7272

Sautee Nacoochee African American Heritage Site

Where: 283 Ga. 255 N, Sautee Nacoochee
Contact: 706-878-3300


Two North Georgia tourism sites will add new employees and complete much-awaited projects thanks to nearly $18,000 in state grant money they were awarded in November.

North Georgia Canopy Tours in Lula and the Sautee-Nacoochee African American Heritage Site in White County are two of 12 groups across the state that received a total of $119,984 in November from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Nearly 30 groups applied for money through the Tourism Product Development Grant program.

This is the second year North Georgia Canopy Tours, which was sponsored by the Gainesville and Hall County Development Authority in the application process, has received money through the grant program.

The nearly $9,000 it received this year will help the young zipline tour business add a bathhouse to its planned camping facilities.

Owner Leah Watkins said visitors often comment about a lack of camping facilities nearby.

Canopy Tours hopes to add both traditional camp sites and also a more glamorous camping experience, which Watkins called "glamping."

"Some families who might not otherwise take the camping experience in a rustic setting will come and enjoy," she said.

The camp sites should be running by next spring, she said. Once they are, extra employees will be needed for reservations, housekeeping and maintenance.

Kathy Blandin, executive director of the Sautee Nacoochee Community Association, said it would have taken at least five years for the nonprofit to raise the $8,885 it was awarded for the Sautee-Nacoochee African American Heritage Site.

That money will go to training two docents to work at the site's antebellum slave cabin, Blandin said.

The cabin, one of just a few like it in Northeast Georgia, is currently open only for special events or by appointment because of a lack of funding.

She hopes the cabin will be open for regular hours by fall 2011.

The White County Development Authority sponsored the group during the application process.

"As a nonprofit organization, we have lots of different projects and programs that need funding," Blandin said. "But in an economic downturn like this you have to put many of those projects on the back burner."

The 12 awarded groups will receive 80 percent of their money up front, with the final 20 percent coming toward the project's completion, said Bruce Green, the department's tourism product development director.

Green said while this grant has previously been focused on product development, job development and sustainability were key factors in this year's selection process.

"We just felt like if we're going to allocate some funds in the state we really wanted to help the local community help itself."