Q&A with Sandy TurnerJun 29, 2022 02:14PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
After a worldwide pandemic, the beauty of Cecil County – its landscapes, its views, its attractions and its people – is on full display again. Cecil County Life recently met with Sandy Turner, the manager of the Cecil County Office of Tourism, to hear about new events and traditional favorites.
Cecil County Life: This edition of Cecil County Life arrives at residents’ homes just as the summer event season fully gets underway in Cecil County. Give our readers a snapshot of some of the top events, destinations and activities they can look forward to attending this summer.
Sandy Turner: Our tourist season has already begun! It generally kicks off with St. Mary Anne’s Garden Market, a two-day event that happens in late April or early May and puts everyone in the mood of Spring. The Scottish Games at Fair Hill returned on May 21, and the historic Mount Harmon Plantation had its National Revolutionary War reenactment on May 21 and 22.
We’re also looking forward to hosting a Bassmaster Open from September 8-10 and of course we’re excited about the next chapter of the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill in October, because it shines an incredible international spotlight on Cecil County and Maryland.
For you and your staff, 2022 must feel like a homecoming – a return to some degree of normalcy after two years of cancellations, postponements and virtual tourism. In terms of what the office does to promote Cecil County as a destination, what are you most looking forward to being a part of this summer – and being able to see again?
We really felt like we came back during the Summer of 2021, with the exception that many people were required to wear masks at certain places. Because we have a lot of outdoor recreation --- a lot of fabulous restaurants that offered outdoor dining – many people began to re-find us last year. We are a very short drive to a huge population base, so it was easy for people to come here and hike our trails, and paddle our shorelines, and fish, and go horseback riding and visit our wineries and breweries.
We recently received statistics from the State Office of Tourism that looked at hotel revenue from around the state, and not only did 2021 increase in hotel revenues 50 percent from the year before, but we were also up nine percent from 2019. That is an indicating factor that people are returning.
With each visit to ., there is a new tourism initiative, a new destination and a new event added to the website and the calendar. Is there a new addition that you wish to mention here, as well as give a taste of what visitors can look forward to?
We have a couple of new attractions this year. Bohemia Rive State Park on Route 213 and along the banks of Great Bohemia Creek has just opened. It is about 460 acres with beautiful scenery and trails, and we truly hope that people discover it.
On the North East River, we’re going to have a new boat ride called North East River Cruises, which is part of Coastal Boat Cruises. We also want to spread the word about our new visitor center on the banks of the North East River at North East Community Park. It gives us a chance to continue to educate people face to face about the many things to do in our county.
What factors continue to drive tourism dollars to Cecil County?
While our partners have had to deal with complications related to COVID-19 over the past few years, they have been doing well in other regards, because we are such a short drive to a large population. It is easy to get here from major population areas. When you ask people why they choose to spend a day or a weekend in Cecil County, they often tell us that they wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of their everyday life, get away from the congestion and traffic and arrive at a place that offers them a breath of fresh air, relaxation, beautiful scenery, and the friendliness of small towns.
That’s why they come here, and that’s what we have to offer. It’s a good match.
Over the past several years, one of the largest drivers of local economies has been in the growing popularity of independently-owned breweries and wineries, and Cecil County is certainly no exception. A recent count shows that there are six breweries and five wineries here. Talk about the role they continue to play in drawing visitors to Cecil County
Bayheads Brewing Company is relocating to downtown Chesapeake City, and two new breweries will open soon in the Perryville area – 5th Company Brewing, and Susky River Beverage, which is located on a farm. We’re thrilled to have such a great group of wine and beer destinations, each with its own unique character. When making travel decisions, visitors look for local and authentic experiences like those offered at our wineries and breweries. Add in our fabulous food, specialty shops, attractions, events, and scenic beauty, and you have a Cecil County that visitors want to come back to over and over again.
You have been involved with the Cecil County Office of Tourism for the past 25 years. Can you recall an event or an experience that crystallizes some of the best work that you, your department and your many partners have done for Cecil County?
As winter approaches in Cecil County, the tourism industry struggles because people aren’t thinking much about visiting many of our small businesses, but in the Winter of 2020, there was the added impact that COVID-19 had on everyone. As 2020 became 2021, we began to get really worried, but during January and February of last year, we created “Winter Nights, Cecil Nights,” partnering with Chesapeake City, Elkton, North East and Port Deposit. We lit up these towns, encouraged shop window and house decorations, and restaurants featured cozy Winter dishes. Each town created COVID-19-friendly activities such as snowman-making activities and carriage rides and a sip n’ stroll and light decorating competitions.
Everybody – every town – pulled together as a team and created this event that took on a life of its own. It was so popular we brought it back earlier this year and grew it from four towns to eight towns.
This may be a challenging question for a tourism director to answer, but what is your favorite place in Cecil County?
You can’t ask a tourism person that question and expect an answer! There is no way I can pick just one. There is so much to love about Cecil County.
You host a dinner party and can invite anyone – living or not, famous or not. Who will be sitting around that dining room table?
I would love to invite a world traveler who can tell me tales of visits to off-the-beaten-path places and hidden gems in every corner of the globe.
Finally, what food, beverage or item can always be found in your refrigerator?
From Spring through Fall, predictable items in my refrigerator include plenty of produce and fruit from local farm stands throughout Cecil County.
Richard L. Gaw