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County sees more tourists

January 07, 2006|By TARA REILY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY -

Sitting around a camp fire roasting marshmallows these days might be considered a little old school by some, according to a local campsite owner.

Modern-day campers are interested in a bit more excitement, said Ron Vitkun, owner of Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park, near Williamsport.

"People today want to be taken care of," Vitkun said. "They want to be amused. They want to be entertained."

At Jellystone, campers can expect visits from Yogi and Boo-Boo, hayrides, an 18-hole miniature golf course, swimming and a list of other things to do, according to its Web site, www.jellystonemaryland.com.

Couple the activities with higher gas prices, and the result is more business from regional tourists, Vitkun said.

Vitkun said the number of visitors from the Harrisburg, Pa., and Baltimore/Washington, D.C., regions has been increasing, pushing up the total number of campers.

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The campground had 18,140 overnight stays in 2005, a more than 11 percent increase over 2004, Vitkun said.

Vitkun thinks gas prices are causing travelers to have some fun a little closer to home.

The campground is planning to build a water park, more cabins, more RV sites and other amenities to accommodate more visitors.

Washington County also has seen an increase in the number of visitors spending the night here.

Tom Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 1.3 million people stayed overnight in Washington County in 2005, up from 1.2 million in 2004.

The visitors spent $187.7 million in the county in 2005, an $11.6 million increase over last year's spending, Riford said.

The county ranks ninth in state spending by overnight visitors, and it ranks fifth in the state in the number of overnight visits by travelers, Riford said in an e-mail.

Riford called tourism an ideal way to boost the county's economy.

"They spend money and leave," Riford said. "We don't have to build them a new school; build them a new sewer plant."

Some of the county's top attractions are Antietam National Battlefield, Prime Outlets Hagerstown and Fort Frederick State Park.

Fort Frederick was built in 1756 by the Colony of Maryland to defend its Western frontier during the French and Indian War. It served as a prisoner of war camp during the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, companies of the 1st Maryland Infantry occupied the fort to guard important points along the Potomac River.

Park Historian Steve Robertson said he hasn't calculated the number of visitors to the fort in 2005, but he thinks the number has increased.

Kathy Sholl, public relations assistant for the C&O Canal National Historical Park, said the canal is a popular hit with tourists. More than 3 million people visit the canal every year, and she thinks 2005 will be about the same.

The canal runs along the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md.

Of the canal's 184.5 miles, Washington County has the longest county section with 78.8 miles.

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