The 8-county tourism promotion group will celebrate the year’s achievements and hear from featured speaker Danny Ford, who is a commissioner with the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. Two awards will be presented at the banquet: The Tom Biggs Award for outstanding work in developing tourism and the Media Award for publicity of tourism-related endeavors. Finalists for the Biggs Award are: Mayor Jean Pace of Mammoth Spring, Gloria Gushue of Calico Rock and Mike Cone of Melbourne. Media Award finalists are: The Times Dispatch of Walnut Ridge, the Newport Independent and W.R.D. Entertainment of Batesville. The banquet marks the first time for the annual event to be held in Lawrence County, according to Cathy Drew, executive director for Ozark Gateway. "Tourism development is on fire in Lawrence County right now, and that is great for our entire region. It’s exciting to have our banquet at a place where so much is happening," Drew said. The Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce tourism committee and Downtown Walnut Ridge organization recently won a Henry Award from the parks and tourism department for their work developing Beatles Park and Guitar Walk at Cavenaugh Park. Both attractions have opened in the past two years. Stan Jones Mallard Lodge, which is hosting the Ozark Gateway banquet, also opened in recent months. The expansive lodge is located south of Hoxie, near the Clover Bend community. It will be open for tours before and after the banquet. The banquet begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, and tickets are $25. They can be purchased at Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce or The Times Dispatch in Walnut Ridge, Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, Calico Rock Museum & Visitor Center, Newport Chamber of Commerce, Mammoth Spring State Park and Petals & Lace Creekside Loft in Hardy. Tickets can also be reserved by leaving a message with the Ozark Gateway Region at 800-264-0316. The Ozark Gateway Tourist Council encompasses Fulton, Jackson, Independence, Izard, Lawrence, Randolph, Sharp and Stone Counties in northeast and north central Arkansas.