Posted 12/9/2013 12:00 am
Russellville anchors the Arkansas River Valley, sitting on the shores of scenic Lake Dardanelle roughly halfway between Little Rock and Fort Smith.
Most Arkansans always knew it as a way station for Ozark pilgrims seeking Highway 7 and mountains to the north, Hog fans seeking respite or perhaps even those looking for solace in a Double Double from Feltner’s Whatta-Burger on the long drive back from Fayetteville.
But in recent years, Russellville has become known for hosting competitive fishing tournaments.
The city’s efforts to highlight Lake Dardanelle as a national fishing destination have earned it a 2013 Arkansas Business City of Distinction award. Specifically, Russellville is a winner in the Tourism Development category for cities of more than 20,000 people.
Lake Dardanelle, located on the Arkansas River at Russellville, has become known as a world class fishing destination. Lake Dardanelle State Park functions as the base for national tournaments. The park features world-class boat launch ramps, pavilions and weigh-in facilities as well as a visitor’s center with exhibits and four large aquariums showing off the types of fish found in the lake, the Arkansas River and its tributaries.
The Bass Federation and the Student Angler Federation recently made Lake Dardanelle the site of the High School Fishing World Finals for the fourth consecutive year.
“Clearly, our goal as host to the fishing tournaments is to bring tourism and commerce into the city,” said Christie Graham, director of the city’s Advertising & Promotions Commission. “The tournaments have a direct impact on the tourism industry and the local economy. Each tournament brings contestants, their families, friends and tournament sponsors to the River Valley.”
Graham noted that the 2013 High School Fishing World Finals brought 130 teams and 1,230 visitors to Russellville from 22 states and Canada, and had an estimated $2.2 million economic impact on the city.
“It created an excellent opportunity for Russellville to expose its guests to the area’s natural beauty and hospitality, and to show them what makes Russellville special,” she said. “After visiting Russellville, many tournament goers frequently return to Russellville to fish in Lake Dardanelle and enjoy our engaging city.”
Russellville is hosting numerous fishing tournaments at the lake now, including the Bass Federation national tournament, a BASS Master’s weekend tournament, the annual Arkansas Tech University Invitational and the Arkansas Bass Federation state tournament.
Mark Gintert, national youth director for the Bass Federation, called the facilities at Lake Dardanelle State Park among the best in the country.
“Other states are trying to catch up and compete with Lake Dardanelle State Park and Russellville,” said Tracey Cline-Pew, the city’s human resources director. “This drive to emulate the program and facilities offered in Russellville is proof positive that the city has identified its niche and created a superlative way to promote the area. It is no accident that in fishing tournaments throughout the U.S., Russellville is synonymous with world-class bass tournaments.”
To attract some of the bigger tournaments, the city was willing to lure them in with cash and in-kind services such as facilities, labor, equipment and other services. Russellville has seen a high return on its investment, too.
“The benefits of a tournament far outweigh the modest expenditure,” Graham said. For the 2013 High School World Finals, Graham said the city offered up around $45,000 in cash and in-kind services. The tournament produced roughly $735,000 in actual dollar revenues, she said — an ROI of 1,533 percent.
“Obviously, it was a wise investment,” she said. “The returns that can’t be calculated are intangibles such as lasting friendships, exposure to the River Valley’s natural beauty, enhanced attention to conservation efforts and wildlife preservation, promotion of the state park system, and a chance for our guests to experience Southern hospitality at its finest.”
Russellville offers other popular attractions including the Winter Wonderland holiday lights tours, music festivals, hiking and biking trails and more.
But the city recognized something that made it unique — the fishing and facilities at Lake Dardanelle — and concentrated much of its promotional efforts there.
“By finding a way to differentiate the area from the rest of the pack, Russellville has become a leading competitor in the tournament fishing arena,” said Mayor Bill Eaton. “These efforts have paid great dividends to Russellville and are part of what makes this city special.”