Local tourist attractions see good year

PARKERSBURG – With the summer tourism past its halfway point, local tourism spots are experiencing a good season this year with higher attendance and participation.

While there have been periods of unseasonal heat and higher-than-average rain, local officials believe the current summer season has been a positive one overall.

“We’ve definitely had a really good summer so far,” said Matt Baker, superintendent of Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.

After getting off to a slow start in 2012 with the island closed for most of the month of May due to high water on the Ohio River, Baker said this summer has been gone well, with only one day of the island being closed because of water.

The weather has also been a positive factor for visitation to Blennerhassett Island. After a hot spell in June, higher rainfall in July did not have too much of an impact on visitors since most of the weekends were dry, according to Baker.

“The weather’s been good on weekends and we’ve had good weekends,” he said, adding over 500 people visited the island during the recent weekend of July 27 and 28.

Baker added that special events have also been popular this summer, from older ones like the Sundae Sunday and Island Frolic events to new programs this year like nature walks on the island and the Point Park Music Cruise, which has been held in conjunction with Downtown PKB’s monthly Point Park Music Series.

Using May and June’s numbers, Baker said the island saw 11,554 guests in May-June 2012 and has seen 12,885 guests in May-June 2013.

“That’s an increase of 1,331 visitors, which is over a 10 percent increase from last year,” he said.

While Blennerhassett Island is one of the largest tourism draws in the Mid-Ohio Valley, other area attractions have also seen an increase in visitors.

“We’ve done pretty good this summer,” said Dave McKain, director of the Oil and Gas Museum in downtown Parkersburg and Henderson Hall in Boaz. “We’re pleased with how things are going.”

McKain said many of this summer’s visitors to the Oil and Gas Museum on Third Street in Parkersburg are a result of the extensive oil and gas drilling and production now occurring throughout the region.

The Parkersburg museum is devoted to the birth of the oil and gas industry in the Mid-Ohio Valley and that has been a draw for those in the industry, he said. A lot of people are surprised and excited to learn about the local ties and beginnings of their industry in this area, McKain said.

Henderson Hall, located along West Virginia 14 between Boaz and Williamstown has also seen an increase in visitation this summer. The Victorian-era Italianate mansion, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was completed in 1859 by George Washington Henderson and remained in the Henderson family for most of its history.

“Henderson Hall is getting a lot of attention because it’s a wonderful place,” McKain said.

In Marietta, Le Ann Hendershot, director of the Campus Martius Museum and the Ohio River Museum, said she and her staff have been seeing more tours come through the doors of the two museums this summer.

“We’ve been talking about how busy things are this summer,” she said.

The two museums, located one block apart on Second Street and Front Street, are operated by the Ohio Historical Society, a private, nonprofit organization that serves as the state’s partner in preserving and interpreting Ohio’s history, archaeology and natural history.

The Campus Martius Museum focuses primarily on the pioneer history of the Northwest Territory and Marietta as its first settlement, along with other aspects of the area’s history from 1780-1970. The Ohio River Museum focuses on the rivers, riverboats and sternwheelers which played vital roles in Marietta’s history.

In addition to its regular displays, the Campus Martius is currently hosting two temporary exhibits that have been popular, Hendershot said. The Civil War display will continue through 2015 as part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

In May, Campus Martius opened the “Imagining Marietta” exhibit featuring murals from Marietta City Hall. The murals were removed for restoration while the city building undergoes renovation and the museum is storing – and displaying – the murals until they are ready to be re-installed at City Hall in 2014, she said.

At the Ohio River Museum, the staff is nearly finished working on a new static display on the grounds, featuring an actual shanty boat from the 1920s.

From before the turn of the 20th Century up through the Depression, shanty boats were owner-built river vessels that were often used for housing and transportation by families and others on area rivers. They could range from boats built from found-timber, driftwood and other materials to more sophisticated versions.

“Everything is marvelously displayed, beautifully displayed,” said Marilyn Fahey, of Fort Wayne, Ind., on Tuesday.

She and Stan Huff, also of Fort Wayne, were traveling on the American Queen sternwheeler and took time to visit both museums during its stopover in Marietta while traveling up the Ohio River. They were especially interested in the history of the steamboats and their impact on the history of Marietta and the region.

“We didn’t realize there were so many different steamboats on the Ohio River,” Huff said.