We wanted to know the skinny on where to eat, drink, and visit around Neely Henry Lake. So, asked Hugh Stump, Executive Director of Greater Gadsden Tourism, to share some history, thoughts, and facts about the area he calls home! Hugh also serves on the Board of Neely Henry Lake Association!
Tell us a bit about what makes Neely Henry and the Greater Gadsden Area so special.
One of the great things about the Coosa River and Neely Henry Lake is that because of the Neely Henry dam and the surrounding elevations of the shorelines lends itself to being the combination of a river and a lake.
What are must visit places on your area (e.g. restaurants, hiking trails, etc)?
Noccalula Falls is a must-see because it is so accessible as it is only 2.5 miles from downtown Gadsden. You can visit Noccalula Falls for free or you can buy a ticket to visit the Park and take in the train ride, the petting zoo, botanical gardens, and a different view of the Falls from below! Located next to the Park is Noccalula Falls Campground and the Black Creek Trails where you can camp, hike, bike, or just enjoy the beautiful scenery.
What is something most people don’t know about Gadsden or Neely Henry?
Located above Noccalula Falls is Hospital Boulders, a top-level bouldering site maintained by the Southeast Climbers Coalition and features bouldering and hiking. An annual competition takes place each February.
What role does the river play in your community for tourism and your local economy?
The Coosa River and Neely Henry Lake play an extremely important role in the communities of Etowah County. An economic impact report from 2019 shows that the lake is responsible for over $540 million dollars per year to the communities on the lake. Tourism is responsible for a great deal of that impact with bass fishing tournaments and daily use visits accounting for over $11 million dollars per year. Overall tourism spending in 2019 in Etowah County was over $161 million dollars.
What is Gadsden most known for?
In the early 1900s, Gadsden was second only to Mobile as a river port, and its heavy industries in steel and rubber made it a top industrial city. As those industries have declined, Gadsden is rebranding as an outdoor mecca with large-town amenities, but a small-town atmosphere. Lookout Mountain and the Coosa River provide many opportunities to get out and enjoy activities like fishing, golf, hiking, mountain biking, bouldering, and birding. Downtown Gadsden has three first-rate museums and many locally-owned and operated pubs, bistros, and eateries. Downtown Gadsden storefronts are over 95% occupied with local shopkeepers and retailers. Every First Friday, April through November, downtown is alive with hundreds of classic cars, live entertainment, shopping, eating, and people-watching. Following First Friday in May, June, July, and August is the Summer Concert Series, a free series of music concerts put on in the historic Mort Glosser Amphitheater downtown. Gadsden draws visitors from Atlanta, Rome, Huntsville, Birmingham, and Chattanooga to experience all these wonderful activities.
If you can plan a perfect day on the Coosa in your area what would it be?
A first stop would be at Noccalula Falls Park to ride the train and check out the 90′ waterfall. Then head downtown to take in the Mary G. Hardin Center for the Cultural Arts and the Gadsden Museum of Art. After that you can pop over to Blackstone’s Pub and Eatery for some great pizza or quesadillas for lunch. A nice stroll around the James D. Martin Wildlife Park where you can check out the Heron rookery and beautiful lake/river views while you work off your lunch. Then, head over to Back Forty Beer Company for a home-brewed beer and finish your day with a great dinner downtown at Harp and Clover’s Irish Pub.
Anyone famous from the Greater Gadsden Area?
What is the best kept secret in Gadsden?
GadRock, a climbing gym on the Coosa River. There are climbing areas for all skill levels, as well as Yoga classes and Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) tours.
You’ve supported Coosa Riverkeeper for a long time, what initially got you interested in our work?
Since the Coosa Riverkeeper and Neely Henry Lake are so important to the citizens and visitors to Etowah County we wanted to make sure we were being a good partner in keeping the environment well-taken care of and the Coosa Riverkeeper is a great way to do that.
What new businesses or projects are coming to your area?
Gadsden is partnering with Gadsden State Community College to build a new sports park containing baseball, soccer, and softball, a BMX track, sand volleyball courts, and a Miricle Field. Located on the Coosa River, it will be a fantastic destination for sports tourism for athletes from around the region.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy the Coosa?