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Festivals, parks draw visitors to county

December 04, 2004|by Tom Riford

Last month, I discussed why tourism was so important for our community (jobs, community investment, and opportunities for our citizens). But why do visitors come to Washington County? Choices and opportunities, and the great hospitality!

Washington County is rich in history and heritage; in fact it makes up a big part of what attracts visitors here. With more than 30 museums and historical sites, from a tourism standpoint, Washington County has scores of historical and cultural opportunities. Antietam National Battlefield alone attracts more than 300,000 visitors annually.

Museums in Washington County make up 10 percent of the state's total of 300, and we're proud that we have the only accredited museum west of Baltimore (out of the three that are located in Maryland).

However, museums and historical sites are not the ONLY things which attract visitors here. Events and festivals certainly help bring people to Washington County. Everything from Canal Days to BluesFest, from Festival of Trees to Old Tyme Christmas, from AugustoberFest to Elvis Lives in Hagerstown, from Boonesborough Days to PenMar Park Concerts, and numerous other events and festivals make visitors flock to our communities.

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Counting up all the entries in our annual Calendar of Events is a daunting task, but we counted well over 550 different events and activities taking place throughout the county ... an amazing number of things for a community our size! (And those are just the ones we know about, there are plenty of things happening here that don't make it in to the Calendar of Events, or events that we never even find out about!)

Restaurants, retail shopping, attractions and recreational opportunities also attract lots of visitors to Washington County. Recreational opportunities, of course, include parks. Our county is blessed to have more than 30 city and county parks, eight state park facilities, and all or part of five national parks. There are lots of things to see and do in the plentiful parks of Washington County.

Importantly, all of our parks help attract hundreds of thousands of visitors here, every single year. The economic impact of our parks is considerable, and should never be taken for granted.

Our parks offer everything from fishing, camping, boating, hiking, picnicking, nature-watching, cycling, rock climbing, geological researching, and a lot more! Our parks offer people from the crowded metro areas the opportunity to see nature up close, and to get involved with unspoiled outdoor activities.

Our parks range from small and quiet city and community parks that are tucked in and around neighborhoods, to parks that are famous all around the world.

Hagerstown's City Park, for instance, is known as "America's Second Most Beautiful City Park." Fort Frederick State Park was Maryland's FIRST state park. Antietam National Battlefield is known as "America's Most Pristine Battlefield," kept as it was on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862. The C&O Canal National Park is headquartered in Washington County (which is home to 43-percent of the entire length of the towpath park). Sideling Hill is a state park facility, and the syncline there is a geological marvel studied by universities from across the country.

But what do these parks mean for our economic well-being? What is the economic impact of a park? Working with the expert staff of the state's Department of Natural Resources led me to discover just how important a park is for our county's citizens. All the information I gathered created a report too voluminous for this short article, so I decided to focus only on one of Maryland's state parks, located in Washington County. However, it's an unusual state park, called a recreation area.

South Mountain


South Mountain Recreation Area is home to five state park facilities (Gathland, Greenbrier, South Mountain Battlefield, Washington Monument and South Mountain). In researching the economic statistics for this recreational area, I learned that over 393,000 visitors have come to these parks, so far this year. This includes over 32,500 campers!

The state achieved significant revenues this year, from this recreation area. The concession revenue alone generated more than $287,000 (an increase over the year before). The impact that the park has on local employment is noteworthy, too. The parks have 65 employees (50 of them seasonal). The parks' total payroll was over $1.23 million. The economic multiplier effects of the parks included more than $51,000 spent in service contracts with local companies, and more than $56,500 paid to local companies for supplies and operational materials.

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