LEAH - Frank Neal knows the power of the armchair angler.
It's their interest in professional fishing tournaments - and $1.5 million in planned improvements - that could make Columbia County's Wildwood Park the perfect lure to catch tourism dollars.
"The big thing about those bass tournaments is you get the national television exposure and that showcases the entire lake and the region," said Neal, the county's community service director. "When these people sit here and watch it on TV, they get a buddy and say 'Hey, lets go give it a shot if they are catching bass like that.' They just want to experience it after they see it on TV."
County leaders already have been talking with representatives from professional fishing groups and hope to attract several tournaments a year to Wildwood Park.
But first, they've got to finish the improvements, including the addition of mega-boat ramps, floating docks, cabins, an open-air pavilion and additional parking.
The cabins and other county-funded improvements are still in the planning stages, but officials hope to have the boat ramps completed by the end of the year, Neal said.
"Wildwood Park - I hope - is going to be a jewel for this area," Columbia County Commission Chairman Jim Whitehead said.
But fishing lure may not be the only thing people will be flinging around the 1,000-acre lakeside park near Pollard's Corner.
The park could also be the new home for Professional Disc Golf Association, according to Brian Graham, the regional coordinator for the group.
"This would become a national distribution point for our sport," he said.
Graham has met with Columbia County leaders, pitching them a relocation plan: The Professional Disc Golf Association would relocate its international headquarters from Toronto to Wildwood Park in Columbia County. Also, they may add a Hall of Fame and possibly a frisbee museum to its headquarters.
Organizers also hope to build three championship courses at the park to play host to the PDGA's professional and amateur tournaments each year.
"We were looking for a place in the South we could play year round," said Graham, who has helped build a disc golf course at Patriots Park. "If Columbia County doesn't grab this, someone will."
With those championships, the area could see a $1.8 million annual economic impact - and that does not include the people who'll come to the courses to practice and train, Graham said.
Neal said the proposed project would be a year-round tourism draw.
"I think it is going to have a positive economic impact on the community," he said. "It's going to be another major attraction in the community. People will be coming in throughout the year, just to play on it."
What the disc golf enthusiasts are asking for from Columbia County is an up-front investment of about $50,000, plus a combination of renovations and improvements to an abandoned ranger residence at Wildwood, some site work and on-going ground and facilities maintenance.
"I think this is a great fit for Wildwood Park," Whitehead said.
Graham said part of the work at Wildwood Park already has been completed. A Columbia County archery club built an archery course at the park a couple of years ago. That course has since been abandoned, but the lanes remain.
"We'll use those existing lanes as the fairways on the first course," he said.
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