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Economy may benefit from big weekend

June 14, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Empty hotel rooms are so scarce this Fourth of July weekend that Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., is marketing its dorm rooms to visitors.

With two huge events happening in the area - the 135th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's annual concert and fireworks show at Antietam National Battlefield - some visitors are having trouble finding a place to stay, tourism officials said.

The concert at Antietam usually draws about 30,000 to the battlefield near Sharpsburg.

As many as 15,000 Civil War re-enactors and 100,000 spectators will descend on a farm southwest of Gettysburg, Pa., to watch the recreation of the three-day battle.

Even though the re-enactment is happening about an hour's drive from Hagerstown, the economic impact of the event will still be felt here.

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For the last two months, it has been difficult to find a room within a 50-mile radius of Gettysburg, said Norma Bigham, acting president of the PA Rainbow Regional Vacation Bureau in Chambersburg, Pa.

There are 5,100 hotel rooms in Washington County, Franklin County, Pa., and Frederick County, Md.

"I don't think the hotels are complaining," she said.

The demand for lodging is so great that a few of her staff members have considered renting out their homes, Bigham said.

When Kathy Lehman at Wilson College found out about the room shortage, she started marketing dorm rooms to re-enactment spectators.

"We figured we have the rooms here. We might as well be making use of the rooms," said Lehman, director of conferences and special events for the college.

The no-frills accommodations have shared baths and telephones and no televisions. But they only cost $15 to $20 a night, Lehman said.

People who have attended large-scale re-enactments before have made reservations up to a year in advance, Bigham said.

The Cozy Inn in Thurmont, Md., has been booked solid since December, when it first started taking reservations for the holiday weekend, said Manager Laura Lewis. Most of the guests are headed to the re-enactment, less than 15 miles away.

In Hagerstown, it's impossible to tell whether hotel guests are headed for Gettysburg or Antietam, said Ben Hart, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It's also hard to attach a dollar-figure to the economic impact of the Gettysburg re-enactment.

In addition to hotels, area restaurants also stand to benefit from the spinoff tourism dollars.

CW Travel Inc. has seen more interest in its regular Gettysburg tour, which will be diverting its course that weekend to take in the re-enactment, said Manager Chris Franklin.

The Civil War Medical Museum is hoping to draw some Civil War buffs to its museum in downtown Frederick, said John Fieseler of the Tourism Council of Frederick County.

Interstate signs should be in place in time to direct visitors to the museum, he said.

A Hagerstown couple is hoping to directly benefit from the re-enactment.

Susan K. Saum-Wicklein will sell reproduction period jewelry and her husband, Mike Wicklein, is making a documentary about the event.

Wicklein has been following the event's planning and will have an eight-person crew there that weekend, he said.

A Hagerstown-based nonprofit group also stands to gain.

The Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites will get a portion of the ticket sales, which could be up to $25,000, said President Dennis E. Frye.

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