Tourism is ramping up in Marshall County, quite possibly to levels never seen before. And the new Sand Mountain Park & Amphitheater (SMPA) is a big reason.
SMPA, along with fishing and boating on Guntersville Lake, have the county poised for a strong push in the tourism market well into the future. And it makes the Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau’s name change to “Marshall County Tourism & Sports” really make sense.
Katy Norton, the director of Tourism & Sports, said SMPA is hosting baseball and softball tournaments just about every weekend well into the summer. And these aren’t small tournaments. They’re drawing 40 and 50 teams per tournament.
It’s really stretching the county’s tourism resources pretty thin. Last weekend, some of the teams in the latest tournament had to stay in Gadsden because Albertville and Guntersville hotels were booked.
“We need hotel rooms and we need sit-down restaurants,” Norton said.
Two hotels, a new Fairfield and a new Hampton, are under construction in Albertville, but they are not expected to be complete until late this year or early next year. There are whispers that a new hotel is also coming to Guntersville, but nothing has been formally announced yet.
A recent event, The Fishers of Men bass championship, combined the venues of the lake and SMPA. The opening banquet was held at SMPA, while the tournament was fished on Lake Guntersville.
“We had 450 anglers and 183 boats,” Norton said. “Local Joe’s catered the banquet. It took all 4 courts at SMPA, but we were able to have the banquet there and have enough room for social distancing and it really worked well. We had teams from 22 states and the winning team had 53 pounds once ounce over 3 days of fishing.”
She said the SMPA staff is booking the tournaments and events for that venue. Tourism & Sports' role is support in the form of providing information to participants about lodging, restaurants and attractions.
The lake and SMPA are not the only tourist attractions drawing strong crowds in Marshall County. The Race to the Cave was last weekend at Cathedral Caverns near Grant. Norton said it drew over 600 participants.
“A ton of different states were represented,” she said.
There are 10 straight weekends of baseball and softball tournaments booked at SMPA at this point, Norton said. On top of that, the MLF High School and College championships will be fished on Lake Guntersville. The Foodland Bass Tournament is coming up in May and a soccer event will be held at SMPA.
HydroFest returns in June, with tickets having gone on sale this week (see other story elsewhere in this paper).
“It is just very busy right now,” Norton said. “By the end of November, we will have hosted 60 events. That is probably a record. Travel ball is coming just about every weekend. There’s a little slowdown in August as kids go back to school, but then in picks right back up again in the fall.”
In the meantime, the Mountain Lake Triathlon will return to Guntersville. And the Alabama Recs & Park Assn. will host the state swim meet at SMPA.
“It’s expected to draw 1,500 participants,” Norton said. “That’s participants. It doesn’t include parents and other family members.”