[00:00:07.930] - Chris Griffin
Welcome to Back To Your Roots, a podcast that provides insight into all things farming, financing, and farm life, guiding you back to your roots.
[00:00:17.230] - Chris Griffin
Thanks for joining us today on Back to Your Roots. I'm your host, Chris Griffin.
[00:00:20.520] - Jordan Turnage
Hey, guys. I'm Jordan Turnage. Thanks for listening to us.
[00:00:23.190] - Chris Griffin
And today we have Travel and Tour Executive Director of Mayfield Graves County, Jennifer Beck Walker. Welcome to Back to Your Roots today.
[00:00:30.440] - Jennifer Walker
Thanks for inviting me.
[00:00:32.120] - Jordan Turnage
Yes, ma'am. Thank you so much for coming. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. We're just going to start out as kind of like the 30,000 foot view of what you do. And so just kind of want to ask what your job entails and just what exactly do you do as the Executive Director of Travel and Tourism?
[00:00:48.820] - Jennifer Walker
Okay. Tourism's job is to get people from outside Mayfield and Graves County to visit Mayfield and Graves County. We're funded with a 3% transient room tax. So if you stay in a hotel or an Airbnb in Mayfield and Graves County, that 3% goes to the city. And it funds the activities of tourism, which incentivizes us to get heads in beds, because the more people stay in hotels, the more funds we have with which to do things. And so we're always trying to promote things that will bring people to town, let them shop in a boutique, eat at a restaurant, fill their car with gas, drop a little money while they're in town to increase the economy in Mayfield and Graves County.
[00:01:30.330] - Jordan Turnage
Yes, ma'am. Get out there and visit the pearl.
[00:01:32.390] - Jennifer Walker
The Pearl of the Purchase.
[00:01:34.750] - Jennifer Walker
Well done, Jordan.
[00:01:35.780] - Chris Griffin
Wow, Jordan. Well, he came with he got some brownie points. We brought this up on a few of our podcasts thus far, just on the ag side, but obviously, the tornado back in December, was that 21? It's hard to believe it's been that long now, but...
[00:01:53.010] - Jennifer Walker
December 10 of 2021.
[00:01:54.660] - Chris Griffin
The impact it had on Mayfield / Graves, and I think probably the first question I would ask is in the very beginning, the early stages kind of, how did you attack that from your position? And then how have you seen Mayfield and Graves bounce back within the last six months or so, and where do you see it going forward?
[00:02:13.770] - Jennifer Walker
It was an odd time for tourism in particular, because, as I said, we want people to come to town and stay in our hotels. Well, we were discouraging people from coming to town. People who were coming just to drive around and look at the destruction were not helping. And our hotels were filled with tornado survivors, so none of that was working like it was supposed to in the textbook. So what we decided I'm in an office with two other agencies the Graves County Economic Development and the Mayfield/Graves County Tourism. And the Monday after the Friday night tornado, we all met at the office. No power, of course, and we sat there and tried to figure out what can we do to meet the immediate needs. So we set up a Facebook page, Mayfield Strong, and we started trying to route all of the information that people in Mayfield and Graves County would need to that Facebook account. So we did that for the first few weeks, maybe months of tornado recovery, people needed to know when's my power going to come back on, what's the deal with the water, those types.
[00:03:23.390] - Jordan Turnage
[00:03:24.240] - Jennifer Walker
Basic needs. Where can I go to get free had? We were so blessed in Mayfield and Graves County. People came from literally all over the country. It was just remarkable, and we were so grateful for that. And so we could say, okay, today they're doing meals at such and such, and today Loads of Love will do your laundry for you in front of Walmart. And that kind of information, we were getting out. So we virtually didn't do tourism for the first few months of 2022.
[00:03:54.090] - Jordan Turnage
You had to hit the reset button, no pun intended, figure out where the start was on this.
[00:04:01.390] - Jennifer Walker
That's exactly right.
[00:04:02.270] - Chris Griffin
I think the thing I've heard from people who, other people involved in that situation, there really wasn't a playbook. There is no game plan.
[00:04:10.100] - Jordan Turnage
There was no time.
[00:04:12.430] - Chris Griffin
I know a lot of them, from what I've heard, is they've reached out to other communities that have gone through similar situations and got their input and kind of how they attack this short-term, intermediate and then what the long-term plan was. And so that's what I've learned.
[00:04:27.170] - Jennifer Walker
And we were a little unusual in that lots of communities, unfortunately, have had devastating tornadoes, but we were so unusual in that it came through the downtown area and took out city and county.
[00:04:38.800] - Chris Griffin
It's such a cultural area and had so much history and everything there.
[00:04:43.370] - Jennifer Walker
And still to this day, I get calls all the time at the Commerce Center, which is where I said I lived, with Chamber and Economic Development. We get calls all the time. Where the heck do I go to get my driver's license renewed? Nothing is where. And we've laughed about City Hall. The mayor's office went into the Snap Fitness Building, and the County Clerk's office went into a strip mall in between Frontier Firearms and a tobacco wholesaler. When people are calling, nothing is where it should be.
[00:05:12.710] - Jordan Turnage
It's a one-stop shop.
[00:05:15.250] - Chris Griffin
You just had to put up shop wherever you could, basically so.
[00:05:18.100] - Jennifer Walker
Wherever you could find an empty space. That's 100% true. But let me say, in the immediate recovery, the farmers and the ag community I mean, Saturday morning, farmers and their equipment are downtown clearing debris and moving things out of the road. And nobody called them. Nobody coordinated their response. They just knew what to do and where to go and how to do it. And it was remarkable. Some of us would have still been sitting there trying to figure out how are we going to pick up, piece by piece, out of this road to make it safe for travel. And the farmers knew.
[00:05:57.760] - Chris Griffin
Well, we had a farmer on a previous episode, and my statement was it was almost like they didn't ask when. They just know, how quickly do you need me there? They didn't really ask any questions. And even for my time here at River Valley, I think that's such that community is just a really special and unique community. I think, like you said, you saw it firsthand.
[00:06:20.270] - Jennifer Walker
Oh, my gosh. Sun's up and tractors are going down the road moving debris. Sun's up the day after a massive tornado.
[00:06:29.380] - Speaker 2
[00:06:29.550] - Jordan Turnage
And not going to ask for a dime.
[00:06:30.750] - Jennifer Walker
[00:06:31.240] - Jordan Turnage
Wouldn't expect it. Wouldn't take it from you if you offered it to them. That's the kind of people that we get to work with every day.
[00:06:38.830] - Jennifer Walker
It really tells you all you need to know about the agriculture community in Mayfield and Graves County.
[00:06:42.900] - Chris Griffin
Absolutely. What is your hope and what do you see hopefully moving forward? I know that's a loaded question, and I know there's a lot of unknowns but.
[00:06:54.120] - Jennifer Walker
In mean in just tornado recovery.
[00:06:55.910] - Chris Griffin
Yeah, just well, that and how Mayfield is recovering in the Graves County areas are recovering. And where do you hopefully see that moving forward for you guys?
[00:07:04.300] - Jennifer Walker
I think our biggest problem right now is lack of patience.
[00:07:09.690] - Chris Griffin
It hadn't even been two years yet.
[00:07:11.420] - Jennifer Walker
And it's so hard. We have heard from Joplin, Missouri, who said, look, this is a ten-year process, and then we'd go and talk to communities who'd had hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana. And that's what they said, look, it's a ten-year process, but we're ready to be normal again.
[00:07:31.070] - Jennifer Walker
That's still a process.
[00:07:33.150] - Jordan Turnage
Dealing with COVID on top of the tornado deal. Our sense of, quote-unquote, normal has had to adapt and change so many times. And I feel like personally, for me, my family, we're all from southeast Missouri. Crothersville hit that area too. So our community was affected the same night as Mayfield, and we had the tornado come through there in Crothersville in 2005, before that. So we had a little bit of understanding how to recover what was the next step, but not near the scale that Mayfield and Graves County was hit as a whole. I mean, it's a blessing, honestly, to put a silver lining on this that the tornado came through when it did. I've heard tons of people say know, if it had been in the middle of the day, we could have really been dealing with a huge, major disaster. Travesty.
[00:08:33.200] - Jennifer Walker
I give so much credit to the meteorologists, the National Weather Service in Paducah, and the guys and women on WPSD. I mean, they really told us what was coming, stayed with us through it. And for example, the Purchase Players is our community performing arts theater. They were doing a Christmas Carol that night. And they decided and I kept watching it thinking maybe they'll cancel it and I can share that from my page and update the website. And what they finally decided they want to cancel what they finally decided to do was they were going to remove the 15-minutes intermission and power through so they could be out 15 minutes earlier. And had they not done that, the tornado came through and hit that building.
[00:09:24.950] - Chris Griffin
[00:09:25.340] - Jennifer Walker
If they had not made that decision, we don't know what would have happened.
[00:09:29.750] - Jordan Turnage
It's those split-seconds go left, go right decisions that you make, you don't know until you're in it.
[00:09:39.290] - Jennifer Walker
That's exactly right. Yes.
[00:09:42.090] - Jordan Turnage
So kind of going off of what we talk about on the podcast, when you think of River Valley, you think about agriculture. Graves County is our largest office in the Association with us. It's heavily concentrated in agriculture, so we know you must be out there promoting Agri-Tourism. Can you tell us how and what you promote just overall there in Graves County? As far as Agri-Tourism goes?
[00:10:08.800] - Jennifer Walker
What we've really focused on are our kind of you pick farms. We have Honey Hill Farms. We have Darnell Pumpkins and mums. We have this wonderful little farm called Featherstone Farm. You know exactly where that is. We also have the Fancy Farm, Vineyard and Winery. So we talk about you can go out there and see the grapes and...
[00:10:36.750] - Chris Griffin
drink some wine.
[00:10:38.750] - Jennifer Walker
If you must. Yes.
[00:10:40.910] - Jennifer Walker
So we really try to promote those as fun tourism attractions as we're talking about Haunted Graves today. And we included Darnell Pumpkins and Mums, Honey Hill Farms, A-Maize-ing Farms with their corn maze, Kentucky's largest corn maze. And then also Featherstone Farm is this man who's well known in West Kentucky, Pumpkin Dan. Pumpkin Dan carves pumpkins kind of like they have that Louisville at the Iroquois Park. They have that spectacular there. He does that on a smaller version. And so they have set up a trail through Featherstone Farms and display his pumpkins. So for three Saturday nights in the month of October, you can go out and see those. And that's a brand new thing we're doing this year. But it's fun and it brings people out. And that's what we want. We want them to go out and see what we have available to them.
[00:11:31.870] - Chris Griffin
Well, and that was actually the next question is and actually I want to know more about this because I have a two-and-a-half-year-old. Can you go in a little more detail about the Haunted Graves? Because there's a lot I feel like I should know about this. I've lived in Western Kentucky my entire life. I don't know about this. So kind of go into detail about the activities that you guys have planned, the vendors involved and what days those actually go through the actual dates there.
[00:12:00.070] - Jennifer Walker
Yes. So Haunted Graves is a month-long festival celebrating Halloween and fun fall things. We start October 1 and we go through October 31.
[00:12:09.500] - Chris Griffin
[00:12:10.090] - Jennifer Walker
And I wish I could take credit for that great idea, but I can't. I started with tourism in January of 2020. And a few years previously they had caught on to Haunted Graves County. And at that time they were promoting A-Maize-ing Farms, which is Kentucky's largest corn maze. And our two haunted houses. We have Talon Dalls in Melber, North Graves. Yeah, everybody knows that. And we have the Industrial Slaughter House. So at that time, they were kind of bringing those things together, promoting them, and then maybe doing some restaurant discounts, show your ticket stub and get 10% off your meal, that kind of thing. So when they interviewed me at the end of 2019, I said, maybe we could take that idea, which is great, you've got those anchor businesses, but maybe we could expand it and do some more things with it. So right at the heels of COVID.
[00:13:05.360] - Chris Griffin
I was getting ready to say, you interviewed at the end of 2019. You started at a wonderful time.
[00:13:15.230] - Jennifer Walker
Well, we had all these calls with the state and we thought, how are we supposed to promote tourism when nobody's allowed to go anywhere? So we did lots of outdoor things that year. So tourism shuts everything down and we start talking know, I bet there's a way we can do this. We can do some outdoor River Valley AgCredit. So I'll skip back during COVID we got this idea of let's do downtown pole-mounted lights all the way down the main area, downtown, and Paris Road. And those are expensive, which I did not realize. In the middle of COVID we raised $14,000 to buy 20 pole mounted lights.
[00:14:03.950] - Chris Griffin
20 of them or $14,000.
[00:14:06.190] - Chris Griffin
They're not cheap, but I couldn't believe in the middle of COVID we raised that kind of money. So I thought, okay, there's some momentum here, there's some community interest. So then we started talking about, okay, what else can we do? And one of the ideas that came up was the hay bale trail. And I don't know if I have told Shea this, but when we first started talking about it, I was like you know, I don't know if businesses are going to be willing to rent, know that's going to be kind of a hard sell. And Jill Kirby, who was on my committee, said, well, let's just try it. My committee was Jill Kirby and John Carico and Fred Biggs. Three local community people. And I said, okay, we'll try it. Well, fast forward to that is probably the most successful part of Haunted Graves. We have 70-plus businesses who have decorated hay bales and have gotten, as Jordan said, cut throat competitive about who has.
[00:15:05.150] - Chris Griffin
That is the reason Shea is so stressed out this month.
[00:15:07.180] - Jennifer Walker
[00:15:08.050] - Jennifer Walker
I didn't realize there were 70 businesses.
[00:15:09.880] - Chris Griffin
I thought there was only like four or five. And I was like, why is she so stressed out?
[00:15:12.470] - Jennifer Walker
And that's not
[00:15:12.880] - Chris Griffin
She is stressed out all the time.
[00:15:13.780] - Jennifer Walker
70 of them most of them are getting multiple bales. One of them has, I think, eight.
[00:15:22.470] - Chris Griffin
Yeah. I don't know what caused any controversy here, but the one I mean, the FNB one is incredible.
[00:15:30.470] - Jennifer Walker
Skeletons climbing up the construction site.
[00:15:32.730] - Chris Griffin
The amount of effort and creativity that went in. And even the rest of me, all of them.
[00:15:37.150] - Jordan Turnage
Are I'm a little partial to my cousin Carrie on that. Well I'll give her a shot.
[00:15:42.110] - Chris Griffin
I mean, they're all super just and you look at them on Facebook and you're like, wow, how did somebody come up with that? Think about that.
[00:15:49.630] - Jennifer Walker
And how Shea handles that in the month prior to October, I don't know because she's got a spreadsheet as big as this table that includes the business and the contact and their address and where they physically want the bale located. And it's so big. I haven't told Shea this, but I got a call last week and it was a local person who wanted to have a hay bale delivered to their home so her daughter and her friends could decorate it on their birthday. It was a birthday party thing. I said, I don't think we're able to do that anymore, but thank you. I didn't think Shea wanted to start doing birthday parties.
[00:16:28.710] - Jordan Turnage
Shea just I think she should take the car and load up and drop them off.
[00:16:31.540] - Chris Griffin
She's always into something, marketing.
[00:16:34.990] - Jennifer Walker
There you go. But that's how big it is. And then I get people, Shea, who at the end of the month want us to leave them out and let us decorate them for Christmas. She gets those calls too.
[00:16:46.520] - Speaker 2
I think that should be the next thing.
[00:16:51.410] - Jennifer Walker
We've ended up with probably more than a dozen businesses hosting events throughout the month each weekend. And when they sponsor an event, it's not like the old days where you just write a check and say, I'm the sponsor of this event. They and their staff do the entire event. I'm only a part-time person for tourism. So when we were designing this month, we figured out pretty quickly that I could only be in one place at a time. This past weekend, west Kentucky Electric Co-op and West Kentucky and Tennessee Telephone Co-op went together and did Pumpkins in the Park located at the fairgrounds. They estimated more than 3,000 people came out for that. Wow. Lots of kids activities. One of the churches brought a little train and one of the farmers came out and did hay rides. We had bouncy houses. We had a candy drop from a helicopter. We had an Easter egg hunt, but instead of Easter eggs, they were little eggs shaped like skeletons. You all have two-year-olds. They had a toddler area set up separate from this so the little kids could play and do games and things.
[00:18:02.510] - Chris Griffin
[00:18:03.280] - Jennifer Walker
So this coming Saturday is the other big event we do, which is the FNB Glowing Graves Halloween Parade. And it's a nighttime lighted halloween parade.
[00:18:13.160] - Chris Griffin
When was this again?
[00:18:14.000] - Jennifer Walker
It's going to be this Saturday, 630 in downtown Mayfield. Okay. And that really I came back from a conference in New Orleans a few years ago, and I literally walked out the door of the hotel to go to dinner, and a Halloween parade was happening in front of me. And you can imagine New Orleans. It was not a normal Halloween parade, but it was so neat. And so when we started talking about Haunted Graves, I said, somebody's got to do a nighttime Halloween-lighted parade, and FNB picked it up and did it. And that's an amazing event, too. We have lots of floats, lots of people. Again, that's one of those things that people come from far away to see because it's unique. We're the only ones doing that in West Kentucky.
[00:18:58.030] - Jordan Turnage
So if people want to get more information about the Haunted Graves County with the Bale Trail, what's the best way to get in touch with them?
[00:19:06.480] - Jennifer Walker
There are two places they can go. The first one is on Facebook. They can go to the Mayfield Graves County Tourism Facebook page, and we are frequently posting updates to that. And then they can also go to our website, which is www.visitmayfieldgraves.org. And they can look up the Haunted Graves Festival on that.
[00:19:29.030] - Jordan Turnage
So this runs through Halloween?
[00:19:31.310] - Jennifer Walker
That's right. It runs all the way through October 31.
[00:19:34.150] - Jordan Turnage
I got you, man. I've got to bring Caroline down there for that because to say my daughter loves Halloween even before she's two years old is an understatement. She is addicted to all things Halloween.
[00:19:50.230] - Jennifer Walker
Let me tell you a neat thing also you can do. We have a little wild west town in our fairgrounds called Cartwright Grove. It's the recreation of a wild west town. Buildings that you can go in and out of. They decorate for Halloween.
[00:20:04.630] - Chris Griffin
[00:20:05.120] - Jennifer Walker
And it's amazing inside and outside. So they're doing that Fridays and Saturday nights from 5:30 to 8:30. That's another I think the admission price is $5 per person. Under four is free.
[00:20:19.510] - Jordan Turnage
Got to check your guns before you go in places like that.
[00:20:21.980] - Jennifer Walker
The sheriff's there, I'm not worried.
[00:20:24.070] - Jordan Turnage
Just might have throw your hat in first or something.
[00:20:28.410] - Chris Griffin
It really is amazing. I think sometimes because I'm from here, I'm from Paducah, how little I knew about this. Now maybe it's because I didn't have kids before. I'm more interested in things I can take my kids to. But it opens. My wife never sits still on the weekend. We're always into something. And so any little thing like this or anything, any event that we can go mean, just like you're talking about the little Wild West town, I had no idea that was even a thing there. I had no idea that was in mean. Even the would be I think Emmett would love that. I think my wife would love.
[00:21:08.150] - Jennifer Walker
There are so many opportunities for trick or treat, for kids. This past weekend we had an event at the library where the kids got to dress up. The city does a scavenger hunt, trick or treat with businesses in town. So if your kids don't get enough candy in October in Mayfield Graves County, that's your fault. A million opportunities.
[00:21:26.750] - Chris Griffin
Well, my kid gets enough when he comes to this office, all the ladies here, they just spoil him rotten. So I don't know if he needs anymore or not.
[00:21:34.820] - Jordan Turnage
So Carolyn, when she comes to the door, she immediately points over at the suckers. They're at the Kevil office, so she knows exactly where they she's...
[00:21:42.340] - Chris Griffin
I've just learned I don't even fight them. I don't fight Jessica. I don't fight Shea, none of them. I just let them do whatever.
[00:21:47.520] - Jennifer Walker
I laughed. Saturday, we had the pumpkins in the park event, and then later in the afternoon, the library had their event. And so I ran into a lot of the same families. And what I laughed is the moms would say, we've already had a costume change. The costume they wore for trunk or treat, they had to change.
[00:22:05.400] - Chris Griffin
Can't be the same costume. Yeah.
[00:22:07.670] - Jennifer Walker
That was what I thought was hilarious.
[00:22:10.180] - Jennifer Walker
Kids all over Mayfield Graves County are doing quick changes and backseats.
[00:22:14.020] - Chris Griffin
We can't have same costumes at different places.
[00:22:16.100] - Jennifer Walker
You can't be Elsa everywhere.
[00:22:18.990] - Jordan Turnage
You don't get caught dead.
[00:22:20.670] - Chris Griffin
Emmett's going to be Buzz Lightyear this.
[00:22:26.670] - Jennifer Walker
Youngbloods RV, and Outdoors is going to have trick or treat in the RVs. So your kids, they have themes on each RV, and you can go and get around omebody. One year decorated as Buzz and Woody, and it made me think of that.
[00:22:41.270] - Chris Griffin
I feel we're going to be making a family trip probably this weekend.
[00:22:45.480] - Jennifer Walker
I brought brochures with me.
[00:22:47.170] - Chris Griffin
[00:22:49.330] - Chris Griffin
I'm going to definitely take that to my wife. She'll just tell me where to go. Don't really know where we're doing half the time. I just tell you where to go.
[00:22:57.790] - Jennifer Walker
Well, you live in Paducah, so I get to count you as a tourist.
[00:23:00.210] - Chris Griffin
[00:23:00.860] - Jennifer Walker
That's right. If you would spend the night, that'd be even better.
[00:23:02.760] - Chris Griffin
I'm adding to the numbers.
[00:23:04.000] - Jordan Turnage
I'm BallardCounty, so adding to the numbers. There you go.
[00:23:08.490] - Jordan Turnage
Well, Ms. Jennifer we, thank you so very much for your time and coming in here in this interview. It's been a really good time. We definitely learned a whole bunch. It's going to be a spectacular next couple of weeks for Graves County and Tourism. Wish you nothing but the best.
[00:23:28.070] - Jennifer Walker
[00:23:29.570] - Jordan Turnage
So happy to see Graves County continue to thrive and grow. Anything that we can do as an Association, always feel free to reach out to us. Seth and Jesse, the guys there in the office, they'll be more than happy to help you. And you can say, I put them on that.
[00:23:47.930] - Jennifer Walker
Because Jordan told me that you would do whatever I asked.
[00:23:50.970] - Jordan Turnage
[00:23:51.290] - Jennifer Walker
[00:23:51.680] - Jordan Turnage
And I'm just right down the highway so it's all right if you ever need anything, too.
[00:23:54.170] - Chris Griffin
Yeah, because I was going to say thanks for everything that you're know, I know sometimes it's probably not the know probably don't always get the recognition that you deserve, but I know you put a lot of effort and Shea talked very highly of you. We appreciate everything that you're doing and look forward to events in the future and seeing where Graves and Mayfield goes from here. And I know you guys will come back stronger and better.
[00:24:21.040] - Jennifer Walker
Well, thank you for inviting me today and thank you all for being such a great community partner with this hay bale trail. It is fabulous.
[00:24:28.720] - Jordan Turnage
It's our pleasure.
[00:24:29.870] - Jordan Turnage
Well, as always, guys and gals, thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Make sure and join us next time and we'll have realtor, Chance Futrell here to discuss the land and housing market. Thanks for listening and we look forward to seeing you again on Back To Your Roots.
[00:24:43.760] - Chris Griffin
Thanks for tuning in to Back To Your Roots, where we dish the dirt on all things AG. Be sure to never miss an episode by following and subscribing. While there, leave us a review about what you want to hear next. Stay in the know between episodes by following us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Twitter, Linked In and TikTok. For more resources, go to our website at rivervalleyadcredit.com.