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SHEPHERDSVILLE - Elaine Wilson is pleased with the strides made during her 20 years as leader of the Shepherdsville-Bullitt County Tourist and Convention Commission.
And while she wasn’t looking to a new adventure, some people at the state tourism cabinet had different thoughts.
When the position of executive director of the state tourism cabinet’s adventure tourism was offered, Wilson couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“It’s terribly tough,” Wilson said of leaving her current position. “Bullitt County has been my passion for 20 years.”
Wilson started her first stint as tourist director when the office was located with the Chamber of Commerce on South Buckman Street. Now, in her second stint, the agency makes its home at Paroquet Springs Conference Centre.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Wilson, who plans to commute to Frankfort from her Bullitt County farm.
Wilson has always enjoyed the outdoors and felt the state was making the right move several years ago as it started to promote tourism opportunities, such as white water rapids, ATV riding and horseback riding.
The commitment to promote outdoor adventure tourism has grown in Frankfort and Wilson believes it will bring more revenue to the state.
“You don’t get many opportunities to work for state government,” said Wilson. “This is a great opportunity.”
The new position, which begins in mid-November, will allow Wilson to take the current framework and then develop her own goals and programs.
“Adventure tourism has just started in Kentucky,” said Wilson. “There is so much more to be done.”
One of her known duties would be to work with the world equestrian games coming to the Kentucky Horse Park next year.
Another goal is to help change the perception about Kentucky’s culture and heritage.
“Kentucky is such a great place to visit,” said Wilson. “And there’s a lot of businesses who would benefit from the adventure tourism industry.”
As the Shepherdsville-Bullitt County Tourism and Convention Commission members pondered her replacement, Wilson said the past 20 years had been wonderful.
“I think we’ve been able to do a lot of good things,” said Wilson. “We have a good team here and we’ve been successful.”
One of the greatest accomplishments was securing the Paroquet Springs Conference Centre. After leasing the facility for a number of years, the commission purchased the building.
She said the center is a great tool for the community and for groups from outside the area to bring their money to spend.
The tourism industry has continued to grow in Bullitt County, even during tough economic times.
Wilson said it is simply just sitting along an interstate and waiting for customers. There is much marketing done to areas such as Detroit and Indianapolis.
To be the 14th largest in the state in terms of tourism revenue is a major accomplishment, said Wilson.
Tourism-related jobs are important to the community and Wilson said the number of local attractions continue to grow.
She was confident that the beautification project at Interstate 65 and Highway 245 would continue and she thinks the completion of the visitor’s experience at Jim Beam Distillery would greatly increase visitor count in the entire county.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Wilson. “Now I can take that passion all over the state.”
Tom Kelly, a long-time commissioner, said while he would never want to hold anyone back, he was sad with Wilson’s departure.
When he was appointed to the commission in 2001, Wilson had left her position with Bernheim Forest and the director’s seat was about to become open with the tourist commission.
“It was a very wise move,” Kelly said of rehiring Wilson.
During the past seven years, he said Wilson has become a major force in tourism across Kentucky and that is one reason she was contacted about the adventure tourism opening.
Having Wilson in Frankfort should only help Bullitt County in the future, said Kelly.
Commission chairman Bill Barnes has the longest tenure on the commission, being a member since Wilson did the research on why having a conference center would be a good move.
“She’s done a fabulous job,” said Barnes. “She relates well and knows people all over the state.”