Just the Facts

TDA approves funding requests for AT hiker season

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Dan Finnerty

An Appalachian Trail (AT) shuttle service provided by Macon County Transit has operated for six years in and around Franklin to allow AT thru-hikers to take a break and replenish supplies during the busy early spring influx of hikers. Historically, hikers begin their northbound treks from Georgia around the beginning of March and by June have moved beyond the need to stop and rest or visit Franklin.

The Tourism Development Authority (TDA) gathered to vote on funding requests Monday, Feb. 12. Macon Transit has asked for $6,000 (the same amount requested last year) to assist with providing a shuttle service to AT hikers between March 4 and May 27. Transportation provided is from Rock and Winding Stair Gaps to Franklin and back. It is scheduled for Monday-Friday, three times each day. 

“Tourism in Franklin is enhanced because this service transportation for the hikers to the local hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, outfitters … This allows for local businesses to earn revenue while hikers are in town,” the request states. Application language added, “We have seen a 75% increase in ridership on the shuttle as well as an increase in our fixed route service during the peak season that hikers are in the Franklin area.”

As was the case in 2023, the TDA approved $2,000 in support of the request, with member Josh Drake adding, “It [the total requested $6,000] would be more than any other grant we give.”

The Franklin Appalachian Trail Community Council requested $1,700 (down from $2,420 asked for in 2023) to assist with the AT Celebration, which will take place March 29 through April 22.

The nearly month-long celebration includes events held at various venues throughout the area and will “highlight the many benefits of the AT to Macon County residents and attract hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to the Franklin area,” according to the council’s application. Funding will be used for advertising, updating the signature board placed at the Gazebo in town, and to distribute wrist bands and buttons to hikers that advertise Franklin by wearers on the trail. The TDA unanimously approved the full $1,700.

Rounding out applications, the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County requested $1,500 in support for the “Sowing the Seeds of the Future” sculpture unveiling and celebration. Associated events are scheduled for March 22 and 23. TDA members approved the full request. 

Drake Enterprises’ Carly Moser provided a marketing and data-driven strategies report for results of the “Discover Franklin” advertising campaign thus far in fiscal year (FY) 2024 (roughly a six-month period). Cross media optimization continues to be the best approach offered by the LocaliQ marketing team, an effort that includes social media, email, and website digital displays such as YouTube.

“YouTube has been viewed over 534 hours, with the average benchmark being around 200 hours for the channel for a six-month period of viewer attention,” said Moser.

The next TDA meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 11, at 5:30 p.m.

Pictured Above: THE TOURISM Development Authority meets the second Monday of the month at Franklin Town Hall.