This town was literally sitting on a gold mine in the late 1840s. Today, the most attractive resource is 72,000-acre Lake Thurmond and the outdoor recreation-based opportunities it has spawned.
Dorn’s Gold Mines produced gold here in the late 1840s and early 1850s, and Cyrus McCormick, who later purchased the mines, attempted to extract gold throughout the 1870s. Railtowns cropped up across the region, and there was an annual Gold Rush Festival. Long after the gold was extracted, the town continued to market itself for its historical ties to the prized element.
“We’re sitting on a gold mine” has long been a phrase used to market McCormick. If you ask those who are charged with marketing the town today, the new gold mine is the lake. In an effort to reimagine downtown McCormick, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Charlotte Tallent is focusing on the lake and the type of businesses the town could offer to support a recreation-based lifestyle.
“It’s about understanding who you are and what you have,” Tallent said. “You learn to use those and do the best you can with those. So, we are really working on taking that strategy now. We’re probably never going to attract large industry. But we do have a 72,000-acre lake. We do have that beautiful 1,200 miles of shoreline, and there are outdoor activities that can be done around that lake with our hiking and biking trails that we could work on to really get them into a type of trail system. We could become a destination for that.”
Tallent is trying to get Bicycle Across South Carolina to come to the McCormick area, and she thinks the lake, the area’s parks and campgrounds, and the trail system are plusses in attracting the bike tour to the area.
“I would like to see more of those outdoor activity-related type of stores to come (to downtown),” Tallent said. “Our focus now is on outdoor activities, and that’s who we are. We have to realize our biggest asset is the lake and outdoor recreation. We’re working on developing our trail systems. Anything that would be in regards to outdoor activities would probably be good.”
The McCormick area has three parks — Hickory Knob, Baker Creek and Elijah Clark — and several championship golf courses. There’s also plenty of fishing and camping opportunities, along with a number of hiking and biking trails. Tallent envisions a downtown McCormick that has stores that support those activities.
“I support Charlotte’s vision for the town,” said Mark Warner, economic and community development for McCormick County. “I also support it for the entire county. We should all be marketing the county and region as destinations for camping, hiking, cycling, fishing, hunting, agri-tourism and eco-tourism. It is going to take a different mindset to get there.”
Savannah Lakes Village, which was built around the lake, is the fastest-growing community in the county. More than 700 families have moved into Savannah Lake Village over the past four years. That includes 360 new homes. The community is on pace to build more than 180 new homes this year.
McCormick Mayor Roy Smith Jr. said the area has a lot of out-of-state visitors coming year-round for outdoor recreation opportunities.
“We are a paradise for people who like these type of activities,” Smith said. “Lake Thurmond has always been an economic booster for us. When people visit, they not only spend time, but money here too, which our business owners appreciate.”
Smith said that since McCormick is relatively small, you “have to be willing to work together to get many things accomplished.”
“Advertising, messaging, showcasing our community — we have to let the outside world know who we are and what we have to offer,” Smith said. “The town, county, economic director and chamber, we all have to work together to get it accomplished. We’ve done it before. This will be no different.
“It’s about being on the same page, singing the same song. I think that will be the key to getting a business to locate here, to support these type of activities. I think it’s just a matter of time. Getting in the right people here will get it done. I personally feel it’s going to happen, at some point.”
Kirk Smith, chief operating officer and general manager of Savannah Lakes Village, said the lake and the opportunities it spawns create an economic breeding ground for the town.
“Just like Savannah Lakes Village, the Town of McCormick is sitting on the edge of a serious outdoor recreation destination, provided for by the 72,000-acre lake, Blueway trails and access points, epic mountain biking and hiking trails, top-caliber golf courses and some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities anywhere in our country,” Kirk Smith said. “This area is beginning to be discovered for our natural strengths – what makes this such a special and unique destination.”
Kirk Smith said the town already has so much in place — a historic, authentic streetscape, anchoring businesses with Strom’s Drugs and White Hardware that have collectively served the McCormick area for more than 200 years, irreplaceable landmarks such as the Dorn Mill, and a thriving arts culture with the McCormick Arts Council at the Keturah.
“A vibrant town center that attracts and welcomes residents and visitors alike into an eclectic town center are the readily available opportunities,” Kirk Smith said. “These are solid foundations on which to build more businesses and services needed to expand the outdoor recreation economy for McCormick County.
Kirk Smith said that, as the area embraces the identity as an outdoor recreation destination, it further enhances the value proposition of Savannah Lakes Village.
“We always say that people choose to visit our community for the healthy outdoor lifestyle, but decide to live here for the wonderful people who share in these interests,” he said.
Contact staff writer Greg K. Deal at 864-223-1812 or follow on Twitter @IJDEAL.