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Local national parks see increase in visitors, study shows

April 08, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

In what a local tourism official said is an example of the importance of tourism to the local economy, the number of paid visitors at Antietam National Battlefield increased by 14,991 in 2010, and visitors spent more than $19 million, according to the National Park Service.

On the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which stretches from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md., 359,557 more people visited the towpath in 2010 than in 2009, according to an annual report compiled to measure the economic impact of national parks across the country. Part of the C&O Canal extends through Washington County and passes other local areas such as Jefferson County, W.Va.

Visitors to the C&O Canal in 2010 spent about $6.2 million more than visitorsthe previous year, according to the study.

The study showed 393,957 paid visitors to Antietam National Battlefield in 2010 compared to 378,966 paid visitors the previous year. Visitors to the battlefield in 2010 spent $19.3 million compared to $18 million in 2009, according to the study conducted by Michigan State University.

The study said 4.1 million people visited the C&O Canal in 2010, compared to an estimated $3.7 million in 2009. Visitors to the canal spent $53.1 million in 2010, compared to $46.9 million in 2009, the study said.

The study shows how important national park attractions are to Washington County, said Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Riford said he thinks part of the reason behind the increased interest in local national parks is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

“The people and the business owners in communities near national parks have always known their economic value,” Susan Trail, superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield, said in a news release.

The 2010 study said Antietam National Battlefield generated 250 jobs and the C&O Canal generated 453 jobs.

The jobs generated are at businesses like bed-and-breakfast inns, motels and restaurants, said Riford, adding that nearby towns like Shepherdstown, W.Va., also benefit from park visitors.

“There’s a multijurisdictional impact,” Riford said.

The money spent by park visitors is determined by using a “visitation multiplier,” Riford said.

Paid visitors to a park are visitors who paid a fee to enjoy attractions like an exhibit, Riford said.

At Catoctin Mountain Park, visitation dropped in 2010, the study showed. Most of Catoctin Mountain Park is in Frederick County, Md., but about 300 acres is in Washington County.

The study said Catoctin Mountain Park had 440,294 paid visitors in 2009, compared to 385,745 in 2009.

Paid visitors to Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) National Historical Park dropped from 275,044 to 268,822 between 2009 and 2010, the study said.

Riford speculated that weather conditions might have contributed to a drop in visitation to Catoctin Mountain Park. Riford said a dropoff from the excitement of the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid of a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry and his subsequent execution might have led to a drop in visitation at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in 2010. The anniversary was in 2009.

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