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Berkeley County eyeing plan to coordinate opening of historic sites for tours

April 20, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The director of Berkeley County’s new convention and visitors bureau is eyeing a plan to coordinate the opening of prominent historic sites for tours one weekend a month as part of a heritage tourism promotion package.

Laura Gassler, who presented the concept to the Berkeley County Council on April 11, said the plan aims to address a shortage in volunteers that tourism-oriented groups such as the Berkeley County Historical Society currently face.

Historical Society President Todd Funkhouser said the organization has “a good nucleus” of volunteers, but often not enough to staff an entire weekend.

For the historical society, “it’s the challenge of having (volunteers) on Sunday,” Funkhouser said.

Many sites, such as the county museum at the Belle Boyd house, the Baltimore & Ohio railroad roundhouse and shop complex, and Morgan Cabin, currently are only open to visitors on a limited seasonal schedule or by appointment, Funkhouser said.

The 19th-century railroad complex, the county’s only national historic landmark, only is available for tours by making an appointment. While the roundhouse, along with several other museums and historic sites, will be open to the public for tours May 11 as part of Martinsburg Heritage Day, Funkhouser said he supports the weekend tour concept that Gassler presented.

Promoting the opportunity to tour several of Berkeley County’s historic sites on one weekend each month also would help address a traditional lack of heritage tourism marketing, Funkhouser said.

“It would be a win-win, I think,” Funkhouser said.

In other business, Gassler told county leaders that the convention and visitors bureau is planning a geocaching treasure hunt this summer in advance of a similar statewide event that is slated for August.

Individuals use a GPS device or a smartphone to try to find hidden containers through the use of coordinates. After the prize, or “cache,” is found, players log online to share their experiences.

Gassler said they hope it takes those who take part in the treasure hunt more than one day to find all of the caches so they will stay overnight at hotels in Berkeley County. Taxes paid by hotel guests support the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board.

Gassler also told county leaders that the lineup for Pickin’ in the Panhandle, the West Virginia State BBQ and Bluegrass Festival, will be announced May 6. The festival this year is set for Sept. 6 to 8 at Shiley Acres near Inwood, W.Va.

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