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News createt: 02-12-2010

New Tourism Trail in West Tennessee

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New Tourism Trail Created in West Tennessee

Tourism in West Tennessee, home of Casey Jones, Elvis Presley and Sheriff Buford Pusser of "Walking Tall" movie fame, may get a boost from a new self-guided driving trail showcasing what one state official calls the "authentic America."

The new Walking Tall Trail was established Wednesday with the unveiling of its first marker at Graceland, Presley's longtime home in Memphis. 

More markers will be placed along 360 miles of roads and highways in eight West Tennessee counties, adding up to nearly 200 historic sites, museums, preserved homes, natural areas and restaurants.

Officials hope tourists who drive along the trail will see the markers from the road and stop to spend money at museums, restaurants and shops, adding to the more than $13 billion the state receives in tourism dollars every year. 

The trail uses existing roads and features tourist attractions that already are operating. Sites in smaller towns will likely receive more attention from tourists once they are linked to more well-known places along the trail, said Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

The project is the fifth of 16 similar trails planned by Tennessee's tourism department. The White Lightning Trail, established in June, retraces a network of roadways that spans across nine counties in northeast Tennessee.

Whitaker hopes the trails will help the state's economy, which saw a 7 percent drop in tourism dollars during the worst period of the recession.

"There's people out there that are looking for this kind of adventure, they're looking for the authentic America," Whitaker said. "They'll find it here, they'll find that Tennesseans treasure that."

An exact cost for creating the trails is not immediately available, but Whitaker said marketing and promotion will come from the state's existing $6 million tourism budget.

Another $300,000 will come from the Tennessee Department of Transportation for making the markers and placing them along the trails, said Paul D. Degges, the transportation department's chief engineer.