Coming soon, to a television near you: a four-part video series highlighting West Plains’ favorite murals, eateries and retailers, and the community that frequents them.
KOLR10’s Ozarks Live crew, complete with a videographer, spent Tuesday evening and Wednesday touring the city with West Plains Tourism Manager Melissa Wharton guiding them. Show co-hosts Tom Trtan and Blake Haynes, with personality Cami Jenkins, posed with murals, shot pool and played cards, and strummed ukuleles during their two-day journey around town. And while it appears they had plenty of fun, theirs was a grander mission.
In fact, the footage shot will all be compiled into four videos to be aired between August and October, inviting sky-gazers to visit West Plains for the eclipse in April 2024. Not only will there be a big festival, after all — there is plenty to see and do in the city.
“We’re trying to reach the Springfield and Joplin markets,” explained Wharton. “The people who will be coming for the eclipse will be traveling from places like Springfield, Joplin, Kansas City.” She noted that reservations are already being booked at local hotels for travelers from Nebraska and Kansas, and the St. Louis market is also expected to make a showing for the astronomical event — not to mention neighbors in nearby and adjoining counties.
They won’t just be coming to watch the moon’s shadow totally eclipse the sun for three minutes and four seconds, however — they’ll have the opportunity to partake in a four-day festival, Eclipse West Plains: Party in the Path, beginning with a concert at the West Plains Civic Center on April 5. A 5K, farmer’s market, Sunshine Festival and food truck space, Neon Parade and stock car racing will take place April 6; Dice Run of the Mills and a hot air balloon glow on April 7; and finally, on April 8, the total solar eclipse, which will begin at 1:54 p.m., though watchers are encouraged to arrive at least two hours before. Food trucks will also be available throughout.
The path of totality will also include Mtn. View, all of Oregon and much of Shannon counties in Missouri, as well as Mtn. Home and Cherokee Village in Arkansas.
More details about the West Plains festival will be announced as they become finalized; Wharton said she expects that to be in October. For more about Mtn. View’s plans, see Page 4 of this Gazette.
The promotional video series will be aired on KOLR TV, one video at a time. Each will highlight a different aspect of the city: One will take the viewer on a tour of West Plains’ many colorful murals, another will focus on popular places to eat and drink in the city, and a third will showcase the unique shopping opportunities offered. The fourth and final video in the series will take components from all three and blend them together into a composite video. The final video will feature a track by hometown rock band BrotherPaint created for the showcase, “Howell County Line,” which was debuted Tuesday at Wages Brewing Company while the Ozarks Live team watched and filmed.
Wharton pointed out these new videos will be different than those that Explore West Plains, which manages tourism for the city of West Plains, has commissioned before, with local videographer Isaac Protiva behind the lens. Those videos, she pointed out, highlighted day trips to take with families, nearby places to have outdoor adventures and scenic motorcycle rides.
They all had one thing in common: Their objective was to get visitors to “come here, stay here, eat here, get gas and go see the sights,” she said.
This time, the goal is different.
“We feel like we have a beautiful place here, and if we can get people to come and experience it, get [an Explore West Plains] guidebook in their hands, even if they were just traveling through, they might stay a couple of days, or decide to plan a trip back,” said Wharton.
Tourism isn’t just about bringing folks from outside into the fold to show them what a community is all about — though it is objectively good for that. It’s also about boosting the local economy. In addition to directly supporting local businesses with their dollars when they buy food and gas, or pay for entertainment experiences, nonlocals who visit also support the creation of jobs. And not just that, industries not focused on tourism also benefit.
In 2017, the Quill reported on the economic benefits afforded to Shannon County by the presence of Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, noting that 1.3 million visitors to the park in 2014 had directly spent $53.9 million on food, lodging and recreation in nearby communities. That spending supported 842 jobs — and had a cumulative benefit of another nearly half-million dollars going toward unrelated industries.
Last year, ONSR reported that, in 2021, 1.3 million visitors went to the park, but this same number of visitors spent $64.4 million — an increase of $11.6 million — supporting another 44 jobs on top of the 842 already supported, and a cumulative benefit of another $9.5 million going toward nontourism industries in the area.
Wharton and and her assistant Terry Hampton have been working for a while to promote West Plains as a destination for eclipse-viewers. Last year ,Explore West Plains was awarded a $24,000 matching grant from the Missouri Division of Tourism, netting a pot of $48,000 to be allocated toward advertising, which was used for billboards in metropolitan areas across the state, including Springfield, Kansas City and St. Louis.
Most of Explore West Plains’ funding comes from the city of West Plains hotel/motel tax, a 5% tax rate for visitors staying in the city’s hotels and motels passed by voters in 2019, so grant funding allows the agency’s efforts to go a bit further — or even farther — than they might typically go.
In this case, the billboards caught the eye of the Ozarks Live team, who then approached Wharton with a proposal for the videos.
And KOLR is not the only outlet working with Wharton.
After winning first place in a photography contest for St. Louis-based Terrain Magazine last year — the winning photo featuring her son Sawyer in the wheel at Turner’s Mill in Oregon County — Wharton began working with that magazine, advertising in its pages to promote West Plains and its eclipse celebration. In late June, the magazine’s staff came to West Plains to see the sights and put together information for a feature that is planned to publish in the March/April 2024 issue of Terrain Magazine.
Hampton recently went to a travel and tourism conference in Kansas City, Kan., with the intention to promote her hometown and the festivities planned, and came back having made a new connection with a travel blogger who plans to visit the city in September for a feature of her own, said Wharton.
While the eclipse is the focus of this video campaign and all the advertising, it’s not the end goal, says Wharton.
“This isn’t just for the eclipse, it goes beyond that,” she said. It’s about bringing people into the community and giving them reasons to come back again and again.
Fore more information and to see the latest on Explore West Plains’ Party in the Path eclipse celebration, visit explorewestplains.com/tse or follow @EclipseWestPlains on Facebook and Instagram. Follow @ExploreWestPlains on Facebook and Instagram for more information about the organization’s efforts.