Ozark Gateway Tourist Council Banquet a Success

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The Ozark Gateway Tourist Council (OGTC) held their annual banquet April 25 at The Studio in Walnut Ridge.
According to Executive Director Cathy Drew, each year, the OGTC rotates locations in order to give those attending an opportunity to see areas they may not have visited previously.

“Last year we held it in Izard County in Horseshoe Bend and the year before it was in Batesville. This is just another way we can help recognize the beautiful areas and diversity of our eight county Ozark Gateway region,” Drew said.

This year, the featured speak was Sarah Heer, co-owner and founder of Arkie Travels.

“You may have seen Sarah and her husband Paul out and about filming the Ozark Gateway and might have even met them. You might have also seen some of their videos, they do a great job filming and finding the hidden gems throughout Arkansas and sharing them with the world,” Drew said. “They’ve spent the last year focusing on the Ozark Gateway.”

Heer used her time to encourage those attending to focus on the region, to get out and share their experiences and how doing that in her own life, turned into a business for herself and her family.

Heer said what had initially started out as a recreational trip, soon turned into something much bigger, especially as the pandemic took hold of the world.

“I had made some posts on my own page and people started messing me for a link and asking about where this place was. We decided we needed to start a page just four our travel, but back then, influences didn’t really exist,” Heer said. “Covid [in 2020] was actually a really great year for us, I know it’s hard to say, because I know it was not a great year for a lot of people. We visited all 52 Arkansas state parks in one year and we filmed them all, and it blew up our channels. People had never thought of doing this as a challenge first of all and then taking and doing one for every year. The parks never shut down so that was something we could do.”

It wasn’t long until Sarah and Paul started getting messages from followers thanking them for their new project, expressing how the concept had encouraged them to be outside more and how mental and emotional health was being improved.

“Just to get those messages wow! It took it to the next level of this was way more than just a hobby. This is something truly special we were able to do for the people of our state and it was just incredible,” Heer said.

For the last 12 months, Heer said she and Paul had spent the majority of their time experiencing the Ozark Gateway.

“What y’all have here is truly special. As an outsider that does not live in this area, getting to come in and experience things, go to the festivals… we started exploring and we recognized it is so special with the diversity and the landscape, the rivers and amazing things. One special thing was the Batesville Christmas Wonderland and the Cave City Watermelon Festival was huge for us.”

Heer encouraged those in attendance to take note of what is unique about their area and use that as leverage.

One example she used was with Walnut Ridge and the familiar story of when the Beatles landed at the airport. Heer said although it may be familiar to those who reside there, the story is new and exciting to others who might hear it and come to visit the area.

Heer shared suggestions that were universal solutions to an all too common problem of much work and few hands. She offered outside the box solutions.

“We’re surrounded by college and high school students. Don’t think you have to worry about this stress of getting the word out by yourself because there are so many people you’re surrounded by that can step in for – an internship, community service or credit hours to be able to make these video’s, take those photos and make these things so you’re not trying to do it all by yourself.”

Heer said seven second clips were prime and when paired with audio, made for attractive attention getters.

“What you want to think about when you make a video is it sellable and is it shareable . Is it something someone can share with their friends, family or loved ones. Think about that. Is it saleable, shareable and is it something you would want to see,” Heer said.

A new video showing some of the highlights of the area was also premiered during the banquet and is now available for viewing on the OGTC Facebook Page, as well as the Arkie Travels page.

The Tom Biggs Award, named after the late Tom Biggs, a Sharp County native who retired in Batesville. Tom sold over 100 memberships in Independence County, and then traveled to other counties to help with their sales each year. OGT honors his memory with the annual “Tom Biggs Award” for outstanding service to tourism. This year’s Tom Biggs Award was presented to Jonathan Rhodes of Cherokee Village.

The President’s award which was presented to The Nomads.

The Member of the Year, which is given to a member who has gone above in beyond promoting their business was presented to Calico Riverview Inn.

“The owners are two women that have made many improvements to their Inn located in Calico Rock. they’ve worked tirelessly to make it happen,” Drew said.

Partner in Tourism were presented to: Bank of Cave City, First Community Bank,  KFFB, North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Cherry Road Media, Future Fuel, and White River Now.
Heather Pedersen

Heather Pedersen (125)

“Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity.” -C.S. Lewis