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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Finding undiscovered places


Bank travelers love the idea of getting off the beaten path and finding those unforgettable destination gems. Taking your groups to visit undiscovered places can create a sense of adventure and camaraderie among your travelers.

So when you’re rolling along Highway 61, the Blues Highway in Mississippi, you will want to take a break in Rolling Fork. This dot on the map is a gold mine of undiscovered treasures for many group travelers.

Nancy Virden, director of Generation Gold at Bank of Anguilla in Rolling Fork, is like most citizens in this town of under 2,200people in that she knows everyone. When she spots newcomers, she suddenly becomes a Rolling Fork public relations representative, and it is not uncommon for her to stop her car, chat hospitably about the sights and even offer a sightseeing tour.

“This is Americana at its best,” Virden said. “You’ll get red-carpet treatment and, perhaps, see sights you never knew existed.”

Rolling Fork is the birthplace of music legend Muddy Waters, and groups just may see a blues musician strumming tunes on the front porch of the shotgun Blues Shack, home to lots of Muddy memorabilia. And this town is also where President Theodore Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a black bear on a hunt in 1902 inspired the idea for the teddy bear. The event is celebrated every October at the Great Delta Bear Affair.

“This is about as intimate affair as you can get,” said Virden. “We have 14-foot wooden bears welcoming visitors all over town, and at the Bear Affair, a chainsaw woodcarver creates one more from a cypress log. There’s great music, barbecue and catfish, fireworks and art vendors.”

But Virden is more than a bank director and an unofficial advertising agent in Rolling Fork. She is also an actress who takes part every spring in the production of “A Dream Revisited” at Mont Helena, a 10,000 square-foot Colonial home built atop a ceremonial Indian mound in 1896.

“The story is very personal to Mont Helena and sells out every year,” Virden said. “But even if you’re not visiting in the spring, arrange to have a tour and meal in this majestic home.”

Bikes, beasts and good fun
Has your group ever giggled under the cover of a four-wheel Surrey bike to check out the sights in a town that Smithsonian Magazine said “could model for a postage stamp commemorating the American heartland”? In Siloam Springs, Arkansas, the revitalized downtown in this community of 15,000 offers not only all the homey shops and cafes one might expect, but also the Dogwood Junction Bike Shop.

“Rent some bicycles-built-for-four, and see it all,” said Patti Eiland, director of public relations for the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce. “And don’t miss a meal at our 28 Springs restaurant. Named after the area’s 28 springs, the award-winning chef whips up the best of everything, from steaks to homemade potato chips. It’s wonderful.”

Siloam Springs is also home to the Dogwood Festival, a three-day event held in April in two city parks that celebrates food, crafts and entertainment.

“We keep our fingers crossed that our dogwoods are in bloom during this celebration,” said Eiland with a laugh.

Eiland advised bank leaders to arrange for a picnic lunch when they visit the Wild Wilderness Drive Through Safari, a 400-acre open-air zoo.

“And visitors should keep their cameras poised for those moments when a camel decides to stare in[to] your vehicle,” Eiland said. “They have tigers, lions, buffalo, wildebeests and even a hippopotamus. With all the excitement and also a petting zoo, this is also a great place for a grandparents trip.”