A cold, crisp January morning finds Tim Todd at Campbell’s Covered Bridge in northern Greenville County.
A century’s worth of declarations of love are carved into its wood beams — this last remaining covered bridge in South Carolina. According to local historians, the span was built in 1909 after a torrential summer rainstorm the previous year washed out nearly every bridge in the county.
It’s a special place, and Todd is something of a guru when it comes to special places in the Upstate.
For the last 31 years, Todd has served as executive director of Discover Upcountry Carolina Association, a regional tourism marketing organization serving Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties.
“We try to bring people into this area, spend their money and send them home with empty pockets and a smile on their faces,” Todd says.
Founded in 1978, Discover Upcountry was the third or fourth organization in the state to be formed to promote tourism in multiple counties, according to Todd.
“We’re kind of at the 30,000-foot level of promoting things,” Todd says.
That ranges from big cities like Greenville and Spartanburg, which have their own convention and visitors bureaus and multi-million dollar tourism budgets, to small towns like Pendleton and Walhalla, which need more help getting put on the map.
The organization has an annual budget of roughly $600,000 (in comparison, VisitGreenvilleSC’s 2019 budget was $4 million), which it receives from the South Carolina General Assembly and also through the state’s accommodations tax.
“The rest we have to beg, borrow or steal,” Todd jokes.
Born and raised in Walhalla, Todd grew up on visits to Lake Keowee, the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery and Oconee State Park.
“I remember Lake Jocassee being built,” he says.
Todd attended Clemson University, where he majored in parks, recreation and tourism management and joined Discover Upcountry in 1989.
While the job itself has changed in that there’s less printing and mailing involved (though Discover Upcountry still prints 70,000 copies of its visitor’s guide annually as well as a popular waterfalls brochure), the organization’s message hasn’t changed.
“We tell people that we have everything but a saltwater beach, because we have the mountains and lakes and we have fairly large cities like Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson, but we also have the quaint small towns like Landrum, Walhalla, Gaffney and Pendleton,” Todd says before ticking off a long list of attractions.
“We have 13 state parks and 150 or so waterfalls. We have lakes Jocassee, Keowee and Hartwell; we have the Chattooga River for whitewater rafting and fly fishing, and we have the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, which goes through five of our six counties.”
The pandemic, Todd acknowledges, has been a “double-edged sword” for tourism in the area.
Outdoor pursuits like lake tourism, golfing and whitewater rafting “have done relatively well this year because of the ability of people to take advantage of those and still socially distance,” Todd says.
Cabins, bed and breakfasts, Airbnb properties and lake house rentals have also stayed well enough afloat.
“It’s been more challenging and more detrimental to the downtown hotels like the Westins and, Hyatts … because they’re dependent on group business, and that’s something that has practically gone away and has just now started to come back very slowly,” Todd says.
To adapt with the times, Discover Upcountry has shrunk its marketing target to local residents these last 10 months.
“We’re hearing from people in Greenville who have lived here for a while maybe and didn’t know about Lake Jocassee that’s an hour away and is a wonderful resource where you can get out, tour the lake on a paddleboard or kayak or pontoon boat and see waterfalls and just explore,” Todd says.
“They may not have realized we were here prepandemic, and that’s been a good thing.”