Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photos provided by VHC
Jaime Bohler Smith, a native of Danville, grew up seeking fun and recreation. But as a kid in the 90s, she struggled to find things to do.
“I remember going to the Walmart in Plainfield or hanging out at the park,” says Smith, Executive Director of Visit Hendricks County. “Options were definitely limited.”
Over the past decade, however, much has changed, and now there is an explosion of family-friendly options all over Hendricks County — so many, in fact, that folks are choosing to move here to raise their families.
Before one makes such a decision, first they visit the area to get a taste of the offerings. That’s where Visit Hendricks County (Visit Hendricks County) comes into play.
“You build community when you build visitation, and the only way to do that is to promote the destination,” Smith says. “People want their kids to have a place to play and things to do. They want their children to have job opportunities in their hometown if they wish. That will only come if visitors come first. No one invests in a community until they visit it first.”
The Hendricks County Tourism Commission is a nine-member group of tourism professionals, all of whom live in Hendricks County and are appointed by the county commissioners and the Town of Plainfield. Those nine members, plus Smith and her staff, are the destination management organization for Hendricks County communities.
“We succeed by promoting and developing the visitor experience to target the markets for sustainable economic growth and quality of life,” Smith says. “Being an influential brand marketing leader, our job is to focus on specialized meeting events, urban and recreation pursuits and food culture. In turn, that develops a quality of place and a sense of community that will ultimately lead to economic growth.”
Speaking of growth, Smith has witnessed a huge transformation within Visit Hendricks County since she joined the staff in 2002. Back then, Visit Hendricks County had just two employees and an annual budget of $450,000. Today, however, Visit Hendricks County has nine employees and a budget of $2.4M.
According to Smith, in 2005, the innkeeper’s tax rate increased from 5 to 8% to support county parks, the county fairgrounds and investment in tourism development — namely a conference center. The way it works is when a guest stays overnight in a hotel they pay a fee that is collected by the hotel, remitted by the county, and is paid to the tourism commission that then uses it to promote the county. Visit Hendricks County was discussing the potential for a conference center development, but then the recession hit, which had a major impact on development for years to come. Just this year, however, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Plainfield Indianapolis Airport opened with an investment from the Hendricks County Tourism Commission.
“Not only did the area experience growth in the meetings market as a result of consumer behavior but it also invested in redevelopment,” Smith says. “Now we have the conference center, the fairgrounds, the CRG event center and several other gathering places. By having more than one facility we’re able to sell all of them.”
Smith’s job is unique in that she’s engaging in marketing and visitor promotion as well as in economic development, public relations and politics (since Visit Hendricks County is a governmental agency).
“I have a responsibility to visitors, residents, event planners and industry partners — meaning our hotels, restaurants and retail shops that promote the visitors,” says Smith, who personally takes full advantage of all that Hendricks County has to offer.
For instance, in the spring she and her 6-year-old daughter attended “Dogs, Cats, & Unicorns, Oh, My!,” a pet rescue event that featured a petting zoo, crafts and goats dressed in pajamas. What’s not to love? They also checked out the Central Indiana Enchanted Fairy Festival because her daughter is all about unicorns and fairies.
Events aren’t the only draw in Hendricks County. So are the ever-growing trail systems and culinary explosion in recent years.
“We expect even more unique food and drink options to come in the near future,” Smith says.
The Mayberry Café has been a nostalgic landmark in Danville for the past three decades, not to mention the restored Oasis Diner — the cornerstone of what will eventually be a revitalization in downtown Plainfield. Brownsburg has the newly opened Rush Off Main, which anchors Brownsburg’s new downtown construction. Plus, there’s Food Truck Fridays at Chateau Thomas Winery in Plainfield.
We mustn’t forget the shopping. Downtown Danville offers a great mix of locally owned jewelry stores, clothing stores and coffee shops. One can make it an all-day event, noshing on Reds Donuts in the morning, the Beehive for lunch and Frank’s Place for dinner.
Summer ushers in the tasty delights of the various area Farmer’s Markets, plus lots of live music events such as Summer Sounds on the Square in Danville. Labor Day weekend is North Salem’s Old-Fashion Days, a small-town, three-day activity in northwest Hendricks County that offers food, fun and entertainment. Then there’s the Lucas Oil Raceway, which was integral to the industry when Visit Hendricks County launched 20 years ago.
“It’s a great end-of-summer event that attracts lots of people,” Smith says.
Heading into September, Hendricks County is well known for its fall festivals— most notably the Heartland Apple Festival at Beasley’s Orchard in Danville, which continues to advance their offerings each year. Besides the hay ride out to the pumpkin patch, they have also added apple cannons, a corn maze and a massive jump pillow, which is like a huge, open-air bounce house.
“We mustn’t forget the affordability that Hendricks County offers,” Smith adds. “Not everyone can afford a 7-day Disney vacation, but what we offer is reasonable and appropriate for those who live 100-200 miles away.” For instance, a family can enjoy a long weekend at Splash Island Water Park in Plainfield, plus bring their bikes to ride the trails. “Moms Day Out” opportunities are also popular for women who are looking to spend an afternoon shopping, dining and pampering themselves.
“We have lots of great boutiques and restaurants — such as Opa! or the Bangkok Kitchen in Avon if you want an ethnic experience,” Smith says. “They can shop and then spend time at our wineries and breweries such as Mind Over Mash Brewing Company in Brownsburg or Brew Link Brewing Company in Plainfield.”
Now with the addition of the Embassy Suites, as well as other nice area hotels, Hendricks County can host group businesses and state associations such as the Indiana Medical Examiners’ conference.
They can also accommodate hobbyist groups. For instance, every three years over the Fourth of July holiday, the National Powwow gathers at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds for American Indian tribal dancing, horseback riding and teepee building.
Hendricks County is also home to the only Doctor Who Museum in North America. Located in Camby, the museum and store sells Doctor Who merchandise. Montrose Farms Alpaca Ranch is another hidden gem in Brownsburg that many don’t know exist.
“They even do alpaca yoga,” Smith says.
To learn more about all Hendricks County has to offer, check out Visit Hendricks County online at visithendrickscounty.com.