Fall tourism gears up

PARKERSBURG – With the end of the summer tourism season and the last of the area’s fairs and festivals taking place as September comes to a close, various activities and attractions are still available the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Two of the Valley’s final big festivals are taking place this weekend, with Volcano Days at Mountwood Park in Wood County and the Barlow Fair in Washington County concluding today.

With the turning of the season, many of the annual events are done for another year but several area attractions will remain active and open to visitors, primarily area museums in Parkersburg, Belpre and Marietta.

Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park is one of the valley’s largest attractions and has experienced a good summer season, Superintendent Matt Baker said.

Baker said figures are still being compiled, but island visitation numbers were up by more than 2,000 people this year over last year for the period from May through July. The number of charters and of weddings held on Blennerhassett Island have also increased this year, he said.

There was also increased interest in special events and cruises through the summer, especially this year’s new Point Park Music Series Dinner Cruises, which were held in conjunction with the monthly concerts at Point Park organized by Downtown PKB, he said.

“Every one of those sold out, so the new events have been doing well,” Baker said.

Blennerhassett Island will close for the summer season on the final Sunday of October, on Oct. 27, Baker said, while the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History at Second and Juliana streets will remain open through the winter.

Prior to the end of the island season, the final big event on Blennerhassett Island will be The Mansion by Candlelight on Oct. 11-12, which will offer a rare chance to visit the island at night and see how it might of looked during a social event in the 18th Century.

Other local attractions which will continue to provide opportunities during the fall season include the Oil and Gas Museum in downtown Parkersburg and Henderson Hall near Williamstown, which are both open year-round.

In Marietta, the Campus Martius Museum and the Ohio River Museum – located one block apart on Second Street and Front Street and operated by the Ohio Historical Society and the Friends of the Museums – offer a chance to view Ohio’s history, archaeology and natural history.

The Campus Martius Museum, which remains open year-round, 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. It will remain open through the end of November, before closing for the winter and re-opening next March.

Mark Lewis, president of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the past summer was a positive one for area tourism. The CVB’s figures showed hotel/motel stays were up and stayed up through the summer.

“That’s always a positive indicator that people are out and about, traveling,” he said.

For the CVB, Lewis said hotel stays are the main metric used to measure tourism interest in the area, but he has also talked with several of the area attractions this month and all reported positive increases in attendance and usage.

In terms of hotel/motel occupancy this summer, Lewis said numbers are up in comparison to last year, even taking into account the special circumstances in July 2012. For a month after last year’s derecho, Lewis said hotel occupancy was high due to displaced residents and workers coming into to the area to restore services who were staying in area hotels and motels.

Even taking that into account, this year’s hotel/motel numbers have been up over last year, Lewis said. Part of that can be attributed to the ongoing Marcellus Shale gas development taking place throughout the region, but he said there has also been increased tourism travel.

As the economic recovery has slowly continued to improve, Lewis said people have more discretionary dollars and are looking at ways to use them. The Mid-Ohio Valley’s heritage and history attractions are bringing people to the area.

There is also growing interest in outdoor recreation and other types of activities. Lewis said something that caught his attention during the summer season was the resumption of track activities and races at West Virginia Motor Speedway after a two-year hiatus. Lewis said he was glad to see the venue open again and drawing people from the Mid-Ohio Valley and beyond.

One of the goals the CVB has been working on has been to encourage more overnight stays in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Lewis said.

He has been working to match information about events like local fairs and festival with local attractions, like Blennerhassett Island and the area museums. When people come to the area for special events, they can stay a day or two – or more – in the area and enjoy the other attractions, he said.

“We’re the marketing and advertising folks, we’re not event managers and event planners. But what we can do is when people do come up with these events, we’ll figure out the best way to get people to them and get that word out,” Lewis said.