In an effort to attract more tourism to the area, members of the Norfork Lake, Bull Shoals Lake-White River, Berryville, Calico Rock and Horseshoe Bend Chambers of Commerce have been giving tours to tourism representatives and to other chamber members to give them an idea of what each town in the area has to offer vacationers. In the spring of next year, the towns will be hosting tours to concierges of five-star hotels, such as, Peabody, Doubletree, Mariott and Hilton.
The towns of Horseshoe Bend and Calico Rock had their tours Sept. 10.
The small town of Horseshoe Bend has much to offer. In the early 1960s, the Prat brothers formed the town to be a retirement and tourist village in the countryside. According to the Horseshoe Bend Chamber of Commerce president Mitzi Ballman, the town consists of approximately 14,000 acres. It's eight miles long and four miles wide.
The first stop the tour made was at the old theater. For those who are old enough to remember, the theater in Horseshoe Bend was once the only movie theater that wasn't a long drive away. Now, the theater is host to country-western entertainment on the third Saturday of every month.
The group then toured Hillhigh Hotel and Spa. "Part of the hotel has been refurbished with more plans of fixing up in the future," said Ballman.
Ann Jones of Hillhigh led the group to various attractions in the hotel. The lobby greets visitors with sparkling chandeliers and a magnificent grand piano and an antique carriage.
The hotel offers many things to see and explore. The exercise rooms and the indoor swimming pool, old-fashioned sauna and steam room are used frequently. According to Jones, the hotel has 61 members in its exercise club. The indoor pool is scheduled for improvements in January said Jones.
The dining room is just as grand as the rest of the hotel. Since the hotel is privately owned and located in a dry county, the dining room can serve liquor to those with a membership.
The new suites in the hotel are lavish with large beds and baths and flat-panel TV-sets. "We hope all the rooms will look like this eventually," said Jones.
After finishing up at the hotel, the group then explored Tom Gray's saddlery. Gray makes saddles for handicapped people who still want to be able to ride their horses. Gray said he makes the padding for his saddles with memory foam. "About 95 percent of my orders are for special needs," Gray said. "The other 5 percent are for private individuals and show people."
Gray's saddles can cost about $4,000. He gets orders for saddles from all around the world. "He gets more orders for saddles than he can make," said Ballman. "There's not many craftsman who do this kind of work."
Afterwards, the tour set off for Crown Point Resort. The resort rents timeshares on a weekly basis. According to resort owner Paul Behrendt, they welcome about 3,000 families who choose to vacation on Crown Lake every year.
"We're a small family business," Behrendt said. "My dad started it in 1981. He drew a building on a napkin and I built it."
Crown Lake is a man-made lake that makes up about 680 acres of Horseshoe Bend and its deepest depth is 90 feet according to Ballman. The group later took a 30 minute tour of the lake in pontoons.
"We don't have any assets except recreation," Behrendt said. "We have the best rivers and the most scenic landscapes."
"It's not overused," Ballman said while on the pontoon tour of the quiet and calm lake.
The Golf Course on Turkey Mountain was the final stop. According to manager Chuck McKneight, Turkey Mountain is a championship golf course that was built during the town's inception. The golf course is open to the public seven days a week and there is a local membership for residents.
"People come all the way from Canada and Mexico to see the view from the first hole," McKneight said. The first hole is located on a steep hill overlooking the green and the big pond.
"You can see up to three counties from here on a clear day," McKneight said.
From beauty to difficulty, Turkey Mountain has it all. "The ninth hole is the sixth most difficult drive in the state," McKneight said.
Turkey Mountain most likely will see a rise in tourism before the end of September. The LBGA Legends Tour will be playing at Turkey Mountain Sept. 28 and 29 said McKneight. The tour will raise money for the Arkansas Children's Hospital.
The tour ended with lunch in The Loft, a private dining area above the golfing store, before proceeding to Calico Rock.
Calico Rock's Chamber of Commerce hosted a small 30 minute tour of their city's sights.
The group saw many of the town's historic Victorian bed and breakfasts and the colorful mural downtown.
The tour also viewed the scenery from Lovers' Leap. They also saw the scenic views from the rental cabins on the bluffs of the White River.
Once the group crossed the river, they saw the majestic rocks that give the town its name with their variations of color.
The group also saw one of the largest swallow colonies in the state. They gazed at the muddy cones that make up the the swallows' nurturing home for their eggs.
Ballman said, "It was a very nice trip."
The next Chamber of Commerce tour will be held at Bull Shoals on Sept. 24. Berryville will host theirs Oct. 1.