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Wednesday, 09 November 2011 21:12

Franklin revs up for foray into motorcycle scene

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Motorcycle rallies are all the rage these days in Western North Carolina, and Franklin tourism leaders are busy finalizing plans to take their first bite out of that tempting economic pie.

“Rumble in the Smokies” is scheduled to take place for three days next August. This is Macon County’s initial foray into hosting a large-scale, officially sanctioned motorcycle rally.

Starting in January, the event’s promoter will be hyping the rally via booths setup at events such as the Great American Motorcycle Show in Norcross, Ga., and the International Motorcycle Show in Charlotte, plus handing out fliers at rallies later in the year in Daytona Beach, Fla., and in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“Riders want to see the vendors, and what Franklin has to offer, and to get out and ride. What better place to lay your head down at night after riding than in Franklin?” said Sylvia Cochran, of USRiderNews, the Georgia-based promoter, when asked whether she was concerned that the WNC motorcycle-rally angle might be a tad oversaturated.

Listeners were left to extrapolate from this response that no, Cochran in fact doesn’t consider the market too crowded.

But such events have become increasingly commonplace in WNC over the past decade, perhaps nowhere as much as in Maggie Valley, boasting five major rallies every year. The rallies, along with Maggie’s proximity to the Parkway and a world renowned motorcycle museum, have cemented the town as a motorcycle haven, witnessed by the diners, bars and motels plastering their placards with motorcycle friendly messages.

“It is extremely important to Maggie Valley’s economy. I’d estimate it at well over 50 percent,” said Marion Hamel, director of the Haywood Hotel and Motel Authority.

Cherokee also has its share of rallies. The Survivors Motorcycle Rally was held there twice a year since the mid-1980s — until this year when Cherokee pulled the plug on the twice-a-year event.

And that vacancy in the regional rally calendar, according to Franklin tourism officials at a Tourism Development Authority workshop last weekend, is helping ensure the likely future success of their new rally.

But they might be counting Cherokee out of the mix a bit too soon.

Matthew Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, said that although Cherokee didn’t have the spring or fall rally in 2011, “it is something that is being looked at for 2012,” as well as other events.

“I don’t believe the market is oversaturated, but in order to have a strong rally there should be something that sets it apart from the others,” Pegg said. “WNC is an ideal setting for motorcycle enthusiasts and continues to be a strong market for regional tourism. With the natural beauty we enjoy, and an abundance of great riding roads, people are naturally drawn to the area. Our job as a region is to take good care of them while they are here.”

Maggie Valley business owner Robert Leatherwood believes another motorcycle rally will prove good news for all merchants in the region. He said it would help to further solidify the grip on this all-important motorcyclist-as-tourist niche.

Rallies such as the Rumble in the Smokies, are the best way to attract those particular dollars, he said.

“I’m glad that Franklin is doing one,” Leatherwood said. “We’d help if needed — it’ll be good for WNC, and it’ll do good for Franklin to have one over there.”

Leatherwood owns the new Stingrays bar, strategically positioned near Maggie Valley’s Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum. During rallies, he gets crowds of motorcyclists visiting his bar. His waitresses, dressed in bikinis, offer free bike washes, a popular draw indeed, Leatherwood said. And he opens the normally day-closed bar instead of just at night.

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