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Discover Expo shows city highlights

Becky Hils, avid Paula Deen fan and the wife of Chehaw zoo director Kevin Hils, said the Deen tour was “very, very cool.” Kevin and Becky Hils are originally from Ohio, but moved here from Knoxville, Tenn., “I love finding out the heritage of the area,” Becky Hils said.

Becky Hils, avid Paula Deen fan and the wife of Chehaw zoo director Kevin Hils, said the Deen tour was “very, very cool.” Kevin and Becky Hils are originally from Ohio, but moved here from Knoxville, Tenn., “I love finding out the heritage of the area,” Becky Hils said.

ALBANY, Ga. -- City residents got a chance to be tourists Saturday at the Discover Albany Tours and Hospitality Expo, presented by the Albany Convention & Visitors Bureau. All the tours were free and in recognition of National Travel & Tourism Week, May 4-12.

Starting at 9:30 a.m., about 100 residents and one United Kingdom couple took the first of four city bus excursions: the Historic Albany Tour, the African American Heritage Tour and the Paula Deen Tour (two tours). Each route began at the Albany Welcome Center, 112 Front St., and continued for about an hour, said Jenny Collins, manager of marketing and communication at the CVB.

“We’re really excited about all the people taking the tours,” Collins said. “We decided to offer tours to the locals so they’ll know how we’re promoting and selling Albany.”

According to Collins, the African American Heritage Tour visits numerous locations, including the Civil Rights Museum, while a tour guide educates participants on their historic significance. The Historic Albany Tour has been offered previously through Aaron Blair, downtown manager, Collins said.

The third tour choice featured famous Albany native Paula Deen’s old high school and other personal locations. That tour promised to be so popular it was offered twice, Collins said.

Returning from the second and final Paula Deen Tour, avid Deen fan and wife of Chehaw Zoo director, Kevin Hils was beaming.

“It’s wonderful. I’ve wanted to do it for the two years we’ve been here,” Hils said. I’ve heard about it, and I wanted to see all the spots where she lived and breathed here. I love finding out the heritage of the area.”

Hils, who is originally from Ohio, said she loves Southern cooking, follows Paula Deen and has at least two of her cookbooks — signed by the author.

“We got to see Albany High School and the house where she moved to after her grandparents moved to Florida,” Hils said. “That’s the one they’re thinking of making a museum. We got to see where she and her first husband lived and the bank downtown where she worked. This is very, very cool.”

Collins said that later this year, the tours will be offered as digital applications as well, to provide directions and comments for people who prefer to take the tours in their own vehicles.

“The next thing coming up is the SB&T Bike Race on Memorial Day weekend,” Collins said. “I just spoke with the race director and we expect 250 riders for the event. This time, we’ll be a part of the Southeastern Racing Series, doing five cities in five states. We’re the only city in Georgia and the kickoff point for the race. We’re excited about that.”