- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Americans are going back to their roots with trips to patriotic and historic sites this summer. But they are traveling farther away from the District to reconnect with the past.
Regional tourist destinations that highlight American history are holding their own this summer despite the shaky economy, terrorism fears and the extremely hot weather.
"People have wanted to reconnect to America and get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life," said Tim Andrews, director of public relations for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. "Our mission is to help the future learn from the past, and at no point has that message been more relevant than it is today."
Colonial Williamsburg a 150-mile drive from Washington has as many visitors as it did a year ago. That's good news for the restored 18th-century town, since other summer destinations are having trouble attracting crowds.
"We're holding our own, particularly compared to our friends and colleagues in the travel industry," Mr. Andrews said. "But summer has been slower than we expected."
Mr. Andrews said Williamsburg's location close enough to drive to but far away enough from the District has been a positive draw.
Williamsburg had one of its best spring seasons in history, particularly with school groups, Mr. Andrews said.
Colonial Williamsburg, which has a 300-acre historic area, five hotels, three golf courses and five museums, has about 900,000 visitors annually.
Fort McHenry in Baltimore has had a 6.3 percent increase in attendance so far this year. It's no surprise considering the home of the Star Spangled Banner, which attracts 700,000 visitors annually, has an increase in attendance by about 10 percent each year, Superintendent Laura Joss said.
"We're on track," Ms. Joss said.
After September 11 more school groups visited Fort McHenry instead of Washington, Ms. Joss said. In addition, visitors said they are coming in the name of patriotism.
"Visitors come to look at the flag and experience solace and quiet at Fort McHenry," she said.
Washington was hit hard after the terrorist attacks as leisure travel dropped and school groups the bread and butter for tourist attractions during the spring canceled their trips.
The number of visitors to the 16 Smithsonian Institution museums in the District has dropped 31 percent for the first half of 2002 from a year ago. Revenue from the museum stores is down 19 percent.
Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is feeling the same effects as visitation continues to be down by 20 to 25 percent. It's a slight improvement from the more than 30 percent decrease from February through March.
"We've always followed D.C. visitation," said James Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon. "We knew from the start if people were not coming to Washington we would be hit very hard. We thought we would bounce back much faster."
The estate just south of Alexandria was hit hard particularly in the spring when most school groups canceled their trips to the District, which included Mount Vernon.
"Spring was our worst nightmare," said Mr. Rees, especially since Mount Vernon will never make up for those lost visits.
For instance, a fifth-grade class learning about American history may visit Mount Vernon on a field trip. If that trip is canceled, it likely won't return the next year because that class, now sixth-graders, is learning a different subject, Mr. Rees said.
"We missed a little generation of kids," he said.
Attendance at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, is down 1.2 percent from January to July 25 from a year ago.
"We think we're doing fine," said Wayne Mogielnicki, a Monticello spokesman. "We're optimistic things will get better."
Last year's attendance surpassed the half-million mark for the 21st consecutive year, bringing in 503,438 visitors down from 525,147 visitors in 2000.
Despite the September 11 attacks and economic slowdown, the historic site is "optimistic it will surpass the half-million mark" again this year, Mr. Mogielnicki said.
"In this instance our relatively isolated location works to our advantage," said Mr. Mogielnicki. "People may just feel safer."
The Charlottesville estate is about 125 miles from Washington.
The Gettysburg National Military Park, about 90 minutes from the Washington area, has had 900,000 visitors from January to June this year a 5.8 percent increase from a year ago. Gettysburg officials say the Civil War battleground's rural Pennsylvania location is a key to attracting day-trippers and family vacationers this year.
Philadelphia, full of symbols of freedom from Independence Hall to the Liberty Bell, has been bustling with people this summer.
"People are sort of discovering Philadelphia again," said Bill Moore, president and chief executive of the Independence Visitor Center Corp., the nonprofit group that operates Philadelphia's visitor center. "People may be nervous about being in New York or even D.C."


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