Officials hope (white) lightning strikes with moonshine tours

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

November 15, 2013

PRESTONSBURG — Tourism director Freddie James says that, while Floyd and surrounding counties have many attractions for visitors when they get here, the main task he faces is getting them here in the first place.

Now, James believes he has stumbled upon a new attraction that is getting many potential tourists and tour operators to take a second look at Eastern Kentucky, by embracing a slightly scandalous chapter of the region’s past.

The Prestonsburg Convention and Visitors Bureau is working with Jenny Wiley State Resort Park on the new venture, dubbed the “Moonshine Hideaway.” Last month, they tested the concept on a group of 27 tourists, and James said they received rave reviews. One lady even sent a card to James when she returned home, saying she had traveled all over Kentucky, but had never enjoyed herself more than she did during her visit to Prestonsburg.

The Moonshine Hideaway is tucked behind the trees near the Jenny Wiley campground. After being escorted on a pontoon boat ride around Dewey Lake, tourists are taken to the hideaway, where they are treated to a demonstration of how to make moonshine, using an actual still.

No actual moonshine is produced during the demonstration. Only water flows out of the still’s tap.

Aside from learning about moonshine-making methods, the secret to the demonstration is that the actors are all musicians. Once the demonstration is over, they bring out instruments that were previously hidden away and treat the guests to a brief mountain music hoedown of about four songs. A barbecue dinner is also served afterwards.

James says the moonshine aspect of the tour titillates tourists, leaving a lasting impression when they are considering plans for their next trip. However, once moonshine gets them to come for a visit, it is the music, scenery, history, culture, attractions and outdoor adventure that leave a lasting mark.

“We’re sharing part of our heritage and culture with our guests,” James said.

Standing out from the crowd is important, James says, when Prestonsburg and Floyd County are competing with areas all around the country. While locals know that Eastern Kentucky music, history and culture are unique, those elements often get lost when tourists compare attractions in other areas, each of which also promotes its own music, history and culture.

Moonshine, however, gets tourists to lean forward and take notice. James learned that lesson when he first pitched the idea to a tour broker.

James said he ran across the lady and began to tell her about the Kentucky Opry and Loretta Lynn Homeplace to spark her interest in the area.

“That’s nice, but what else have you got?” the broker replied.

James said he began telling her about other attractions in the area.

“That’s nice, but what else have you got?” she said again.

James had been toying with the idea of the moonshine tour for some time, inspired in part by the success of the Bourbon Trail in Central Kentucky, but had never developed any concrete plans. But under pressure to say something that would get the tour broker’s attention, James said the basics of the Moonshine Hideaway — the demonstration, music and cookout — came pouring out completely off the cuff.

“Really? Tell me more,” the broker replied.

James said by the end of their conversation, the broker was promising to send 10 tour buses to visit the area — and the Moonshine Hideaway — next year.

“This is a woman whose job it is to know the market and know what will sell,” James said. “And this got her attention.”

James said he is seeing a similar response after sending details of the Hideaway to tour operators earlier this week. Many are calling or writing back, wanting more information, and one operator has already booked a tour.

The Moonshine Hideaway Tour is continuing to evolve and now has two parts — one for tour groups like the one last month, and another to be operated by the park starting next year, which would allow individuals to sign up for scheduled performances, much like they do for elk tours.

For tour groups, a typical Moonshine Hideaway Tour lasts about 10 hours, including the boat ride and cookout. However, the groups often stay in the area for three nights, visiting local attractions, dining at local restaurants, staying in local motels, and shopping with local merchants during their visit.

James believes the idea has a lot of potential for bringing more tourists to the area, especially if other communities get involved and help create a Moonshine Trail to rival the Bourbon Trail.