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Shopping and history draw visitors to area

September 24, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

With so many historical and outdoor attractions in Washington County, tourism has long been a strong component of the local economy.

With the development and expansion of several retail centers in recent years, Washington County has emerged as a destination for shopaholics.

Prime Outlets, the top destination for out-of-county residents for the past five years, annually reports more than 4.5 million shopping visits.

About 80 percent of those shoppers come from outside the county, according to Tom Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

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Prime Outlets reported a 2 percent gain in shopping visits in 2005, he said.

The Centre at Hagerstown reported a 5 percent increase in shopping visits during 2005 with 5.8 million visits. Nearly half of those shoppers came from outside Washington County, Riford said.

Valley Mall reported gains as well, with a 6.7 percent increase in shoppers in 2005.

"Visitors say that shopping is the No. 1 activity that they do while on a trip or on vacation," Riford said.

The county's historic and cultural attractions continue to draw visitors to the county, according to CVB statistics.

Nearly 300,000 visitors stopped at the visitors center at Antietam National Battlefield; just as many drove through the park on their own, Riford said.

Another 700,000 visited the C&O Canal National Historical Park in Washington County.

State parks in the South Mountain area, including South Mountain, Greenbrier, Gathland and Washington Monument, attracted more than 450,000 visitors in 2005. Fort Frederick State Park and the Western Maryland Rail Trail drew another 85,455 visitors last year.

This year, celebrations surrounding Fort Frederick's 250th anniversary have brought a surge of visitors, Riford said.

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, two of Hagerstown's top cultural attractions, also mark milestone anniversaries this year - 75 years for the museum, and 25 years for the MSO.

The Hagerstown Suns were the top paid attendance attraction within the City of Hagerstown, with 154,000 paying fans taking in a game last year.

Visitors spent $187.7 million in Washington County during 2005, Riford said.

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