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Tourists fueling W.Va. economy

July 12, 1998

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

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Tourists fuel WV economyBy CLYDE FORD / Staff Writer

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The scenic view at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park cost an Annapolis family more than $200 to take in.

"We wanted to come out and see the mountains and enjoy the countryside," said Tammy Dresser, 37.

"It's not real far. It's not like you're in the car for hours and hours. And it's so beautiful here," Dresser said.

Her mother, Betty Barber, 65, estimated the family would spend more than $200 on their overnight trip to Harpers Ferry, including park entrance fees, meals at restaurants and motel lodging.

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More and more people are choosing to vacation in West Virginia and the dollars the tourists spend are a vital part of the state's economy, said Caryn Gresham, director of public information for the West Virginia Division of Tourism.

Coal is still king in West Virginia, but tourism may soon usurp the crown.

From ghost tours to golf outings, tourism brought 20 million people to West Virginia in 1996, contributing $4.02 billion to the state's economy, according to the latest figures available from the Division of Tourism.

Tourism produced 76,000 full-time jobs with a $1.45 billion payroll in 1996.

Tourism in the Eastern Gateway region of Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties accounts for 5,500 jobs and pumps $308 million into the area's economy, Gresham said. Coal contributed $4.4 billion to the state's economy, according to 1996 figures from the West Virginia Coal Association.

The coal industry employed 44,000 people with a total payroll of $1.07 billion , according to Coal Association figures.

David Blythe, director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said tourism in the Eastern Panhandle is considered anything from a trip to the Blue Ridge Outlets in Martinsburg, W.Va., to attending a play at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

"Shepherdstown in itself is a great tourist attraction," Blythe said.

Most of the tourists come from the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas, Blythe said.

"I think that what they come for is a more relaxing environment, a small community kind of environment," Blythe said.

They also come out to go camping, ride on a raft over white water rapids and watch sports cars and horses race around tracks.

"To us, tourism is everything," said Matt Knott, whose family owns River Riders in Harpers Ferry.

About 5,000 customers visit the business annually for guided raft tours on the Shenandoah River or to rent a canoe or kayak, Knott said.

At the Harpers Ferry/Washington, D.C., Northwest KOA campground, about 12,000 families - 36,000 people -  camp out annually, said Chris Cutler, general manager of the campground.

The campground has 320 camping sites and on the weekends it can resemble a village.

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