Members of the Appalachian Trail Community Committee in Franklin were the ones pushing people to vote for Franklin during the online contest, and now they are eager to keep the momentum going. But some feel the town leaders aren’t doing their part to promote it.
“The Appalachian Trail Community Committee worked hard to drive the contest home, and to see the town leadership do nothing in response is disappointing,” said Matt Bateman, co-chair of the committee. “I would have hoped they’d take initiative on this.”
Venture Local Franklin — a citizen group committed to improving Franklin — has asked the town of Franklin what it plans to do about promoting the award, but town officials said it already promotes Franklin as an outdoor destination through Tourism Development Authority spending. As it was not a town-led initiative, Mayor Bob Scott doesn’t think it would be appropriate for the town to spend tax dollars on promoting the award.
“The town doesn’t have a role in promoting that award,” he said.
The issue has been broadcast on social media and town leaders have been accused of not cooperating with the grassroots effort. Scott said the town has done everything in its power the last few years to promote Franklin as an outdoor destination, by hosting a number of outdoor festivals like Franklin Trail Days and working to improve its parks system. Scott said one of his next goals is to turn the former Whitmire property into some kind of park area with pedestrian and bicycle trails. The town purchased the 11 acres on the east side of town about 10 years ago but hasn’t done anything with it yet.
“The board has been as friendly to the outdoors as any other board we’ve had,” Scott said. “We’re backing any outdoor activities we can here because this is going to be the future of Franklin and Macon County.”
Venture Local folks could take advantage of the town’s new banner policy that allows a promotional banner to be hung up over Main Street, but the banner could only stay up for only a couple of weeks.
Bateman, a driving force behind Venture Local, said the group was turned down when it asked the town if a “Best Small Town” banner could hang over Main Street when no other events were being promoted.
The town’s banner policy allows only a “nonprofit or community event” to be promoted on a banner over Main Street, and it’s questionable whether the Blue Ridge Outdoors honor fits into either of those categories.
Scott said the town had to stick to its policy or change it to accommodate the request to keep it up longer. With so many nonprofit and volunteer groups in the county, he just doesn’t think it would be fair to make an exception for one group.
“For years the town banished banners. We worked hard to get the policy in place, and everyone had an opportunity to vote on it,” Scott said. “We can’t show favoritism to one small group.”
Scott said the town has also been criticized for not prominently displaying the award on the town’s website, but he would argue that tourists don’t frequent a town government website. He said the proper place is on the town’s tourism website, discoverfranklinnc.com.
The award is now the first thing you see when you visit that website and there is a link to the full story in Blue Ridge Outdoors, but Bateman said the award wasn’t on the website at all until he called Town Manager Summer Woodward and asked her to post it.
“The Tourism Development Authority is a town entity charged with marketing the town of Franklin to put heads in beds. I can’t imagine a better campaign to lead with than the top small town in the Blue Ridge,” Bateman said.
He said he would be attending the next TDA meeting on March 8 to try to convince the board to have a major advertising campaign in the major cities within a couple of hours of Franklin.
Not satisfied with the town’s response, Venture Local Franklin has taken it upon itself to promote the award. Those following the #franklinforward hashtag on social media have recently been bombarded with photos of Venture Local folks taking photos with a “Best Small Town” banner all over Franklin. They travel around to any business in Franklin willing to participate to take photos with the banner to post online.