- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) - Big crowds at local historic sites for the 150th anniversary of regional Civil War battles have brought a sharp uptick in business to Southeastern North Carolina in 2015.

During the weekend of Jan. 17-18 for the observance of the fall of Fort Fisher, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach saw bumper-to-bumper traffic, a rarity in the off-season.

“It was just a huge groundswell,” said Greg Reynolds, executive director of the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce.

Local restaurants saw brisk business, and local hotels and motels were so booked that visitors had to drive as far as Leland for a room, Reynolds said.

Anniversary observances drew an official tally of 21,930 visitors over two days at Fort Fisher State Historic Site, up from 7,500 for the 2014 anniversary program, according to Si Lawrence, a spokesman for the facility.

“That’s the official number,” Lawrence said. “We think some more people slipped in over the fence.”

Fort Fisher logged more than 748,000 visitors in calendar 2014, Lawrence said, up from 614,000 in 2013.

Another 4,000 visitors turned out on Feb. 14-15 for re-enactments of the fall of Fort Anderson in Brunswick County, according to Jim McKee of the Brunswick Town-Fort Anderson State Historic Site. The numbers were even more impressive, McKee said, since heavy rains turned the Feb. 15 events largely into a washout.

More than 2,000 people turned out on Feb. 7-8 for anniversary observances of the 1865 Battle of Forks Road, said Kim Kelly of the Cameron Art Museum, where the observances took place. In addition, some 800 schoolchildren visited the battlefield for special programs with the re-enactors, Kelly said.

The total economic impact of these events is hard to judge. Figures on room-tax receipts for January 2015 won’t be available until the middle of March, said Connie Nelson of the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Still, it’s clear that a high percentage of visitors came from out of the region, if not out of state. The Friends of Fort Fisher brought in a total of 175 descendants of Union and Confederate veterans of the Jan. 13-15, 1865, battle at the Fort, many of whom came from points up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

The Civil War Trust, a non-profit group that advocates preservation of historic sites, estimated in an economic survey that a typical family of four spends more than $1,000 on food, lodging, souvenirs and other items during a typical visit to a Civil War site.

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Information from: The StarNews, https://starnewsonline.com

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