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Civil War events around Frederick draw tourists' cash

Tuesday - 10/16/2012, 10:00am  ET

As the summer season winds down, so does tourism. That's how the story usually goes, anyway.

But this year, as children went back to the classroom and tans from Labor Day weekends at the beach began to fade, Frederick County and the surrounding region experienced a tourism boom. The source? Sesquicentennial events at local Civil War heritage sites.

According to John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County, numbers starting to roll in from last month indicate that September was a high-traffic month due to the 150-year anniversaries of both the Battle of South Mountain and the Battle of Antietam.

Typically, hotels in the area report 65.5 percent occupancy and $3.4 million in revenue during the month of September. Last month, initial reports show that there was about 74 percent occupancy and $4.08 million in revenue, Fieseler said.

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine in downtown Frederick also had a record month, and visitation was up by 28 percent over last year at Monocacy National Battlefield.

"From what we can tell ... (the sesquicentennial events) are drawing people from everywhere," said Tracy Evans, a ranger at the battlefield who even spoke to one man who came from out of the country for the events.

Fieseler said 70 percent of visitors come to Frederick County from within a 200-mile radius, but "if they're interested in Civil War history, we'll get them from the western half of the U.S."

Frederick County saw overflow from people who were already in the area to explore Civil War heritage, according to Evans, and those in the tourism industry expect there will be even more next year because of the anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg and the deliverance of the Gettysburg Address.

Fieseler agreed. Since it's central, Frederick can easily serve as a "base camp" for those touring Civil War sites in the region. Local hotels have already received calls inquiring about availability in July, he said.

"We definitely expect an uptick from that ... the anniversary of Gettysburg is likely to be the largest single event of the Civil War anniversary period. That's the one everybody knows about."

Thomas Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said visitors traveling in large groups are already having trouble finding blocks of hotel rooms in the immediate Gettysburg area for next summer.

Riford expects the region to experience increased amounts of heritage tourism well after the Civil War sesquicentennial ends in 2015.

"There's a lot that's going on in and around actual anniversaries, but there's an awful lot of secondary impact, too," Riford said.

He cited an example from 2006, when the sestercentennial of the construction of Fort Frederick was celebrated.

"The publicity from the actual anniversary was great but what it did was generate a lot more attendance afterwards," he said.

According to Fieseler, the ongoing interest would be a good boost for the county's economy. Studies show that heritage tourists "spend one-and-a-half times what the average U.S. tourist spends," he said.