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The Simple Life

by Angela Lindsay

July 5,2006

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith knows a thing or two about the simple life. Well known throughout the NFL and with football fans everywhere for his comedic and sometimes complex end zone celebrations, the star athlete can probably afford to jet off to any number of faraway, exotic places during the off-season. But asked that very question by a local radio talk show host during a recent interview, Smith replied that when it comes to taking summer vacations, he actually opts to stay close to his Charlotte home.

The start of the summer vacation season is often attributed to the Fourth of July weekend. This holiday typically generates major travels to such cities as Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, what with all the patriotic history, impressive fireworks displays, parades, and festivals that they possess. From then on, the vacationers from all over embark on non-stop excursions to various locations. Over the years, an increasing number of those people have chosen Charlotte and its surrounding area to get away from it all. And with everything to offer from mountains to beaches, they have good reason.

Those of us who are natives of this area, we may tend to take this region for granted. It is easy to adopt a “been there, done that” attitude. But the truth is that there are several interesting places and hidden gems that this region has to offer – many of which I realized, after listening to Smith, that I had never even given a second thought.

Charlotte and its surrounding area boasts a rich tapestry of the arts, science, history, and nature that draws almost 3 million visitors here every year. Smith shared that he prefers to take his family on vacations to well-known local places like Grandfather Mountain and Carowinds. But there are also attractions such as The Biltmore Estate, the Botanical Gardens at UNCC, a multitude of Queen City museums (and an arts proposal for three museums and a theater), and now the U.S. National WhiteWater Park, which will contribute to making this region one of the most heavily visited every year.

North Carolina is ranked 8th in the nation for person-trip volume. Visitors generate billions in revenue every year—more than $14 billion in sending and $1.2 billion in tax revenue last year alone – to the city and the state’s economy. The 60 million visitors here represented an increase of 7.3% from 2004, the largest increase since 2000. These numbers reflect the growing reputation that Charlotte has built up as a world class city.

Some visitors to the Charlotte region equate summer vacations to family reunions. The Carolinas have become an increasingly popular destination for that traditional summertime ritual – including my own family reunion scheduled here for next year. According to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, more than 2,000 visitors’ guides have gone out to organizers of Charlotte reunions, and shelters at large recreational parks such as Reedy Creek Park and Park Road Park stay booked with gatherings. Charlotte-region amenities and conveniences, various shopping options, and the fact that many family roots are entrenched in the South make Charlotte the perfect venue for this cultural staple. But the attraction is not just limited to the summertime.

Over the years, Charlotte has become nationally recognized as a cultural leader that offers possibilities for travel that are as diverse as its residents and ways of life. Visitors flock here year-round to “get away from it all” and enjoy the simple southern charm of our surroundings – the same surroundings that, if given the chance, can make even lifelong residents feel like they are a million miles away.

I was not fortunate to be in Charlotte this year to celebrate Independence Day. But every day that I am here I can see how Charlotte has slowly allowed its residents to declare their independence from the need to travel to other places to have an enjoyable vacation. Others are recognizing the treasures we have in our own backyard. Sometimes seeing it through the eyes of someone new can make one take a second look at what has been here all along and, in the process, uncover or renew an interest in discovering all that there is close to home.

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