PARKERSBURG - With the summer tourism season closing, there are still many activities and attractions available in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Steve Nicely, president of the Parkersburg-Wood County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said some figures and anecdotal information indicates the 2009 summer tourism season was mixed.
"Some of the people had a really good year, some people didn't have that good a year, but I've not heard of anybody who had a disastrous year," Nicely said.
Holiday light displays, like this one at the Belpre Civitan Park and the Parkersburg City Park, are a popular attraction.
A trend was an increase in tourists staying, Nicely said. In the past, tourists would briefly stop in the Mid-Ohio Valley before going on to their next destination.
"We did a lot more visit-planning this year than we've ever done before, in terms of people either calling or stopping here and wanting information on the area and wanting us to take some time to basically plan out their visit, which is OK," he said.
Nicely said it was a trend seen throughout West Virginia this year, according to his counterparts in other areas of the state. He believes one reason for that trend is that West Virginia is a travel bargain, with lower costs for rooms, restaurants and other amenities in relation to surrounding states.
"We're also easy to get to, with that old adage that we're within a half-day's drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population, which really played to our advantage," he said.
Another trend noticed this year was a shorter decision period among travelers with their plans. Instead of more people planning for a trip a month or two in advance, there were a lot more people calling to ask about the coming weekend or the next week or two, Nicely said.
"I think there was a lot of 'spur of the moment' travel this year than there has been in the past. Maybe people decide we just got to get away this weekend and we're going to go someplace," he said.
Nicely said tourism officials have been told there are indications of a lot of pent-up desire for travel. With ongoing improvements in the national economy, officials have been told to possibly expect a lot more travel and interest in travel through the fourth quarter to the end of the year.
While the fall and winter months at the end of the year are generally slower in terms of tourism, the tourist bureau is always looking at ways to attract people to the local area, Nicely said. He plans to be more aggressive this year marketing what is available during this time of the season due to that possible upswing in last-minute traveling.
The bureau will open a new Web site in the next few weeks with some new features, including a trip planner application. It will also have more focus on events coming in the near future to address that increase in spur-of-the-moment travel, along with more PR efforts and more electronic resources to get the word out quicker than the more traditional advertising processes.
While the area's main draw, Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, closes at the end of October to tours, many other area attractions will remain open and the bureau will focus on those, Nicely said. They include Fenton Art Glass, the West Virginia Oil and Gas Museum, North Bend State Park, Henderson Hall and the Blennerhassett Museum.
There are also a number of special events coming in before the end of the year, as well, including programs at the Smoot Theatre, the Parkersburg Art Center, the Actors Guild of Parkersburg, Heritage Trees at the Blennerhassett Museum, Holiday in the Park, the Belpre Holiday Lights Display, holiday home tours in the Julia-Ann Square Historic District and others.
One area the bureau will be focusing on is holiday themes and activities since that time of year is approaching, he said.
Nicely said he saw more local inquiries than in the past, as part of the "stay-cation" trend, but that is harder to collect data on. From his own sense, he believes there was more of that activity this year. It seemed like lot of people were staying closer to home or inviting in friends and relatives from other areas to visit the local attractions.
"I think there was definitely an upswing in that, how much I don't know," he said.
From what he has heard, Nicely expects this year's trends to continue for at least another year before any big changes develop, probably in 2111.
Activities and programs are also available throughout the year in Marietta and Washington County, including a change in the availability of the Campus Martius and Ohio River Museums.
Le Ann Hendershot, interim manager of the two museums, said in a change from previous years, the museums will not close during the fall and winter seasons.
The Ohio River Museum, which formerly closed on Labor Day, will remain open through the end of December, Hendershot said. The Campus Martius used to close to the public during the winter months - although school groups visited throughout the cold season - but now will be open all year, she said.
The museums are still owned by the Ohio Historical Society, which nearly had to close both facilities this summer due to state budget cuts, but are now being managed and operated by the Friends of the Museum Inc., Hendershot said. They are hoping to get more individuals coming in for programs, exhibits and activities in hopes the increased access will help increase usage, she said.
The Ohio River Museum will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays through the end of December, closing for the season during January, February and March. It and Campus Martius will be open to groups by appointment throughout the year regardless of the hours of operation, Hendershot said.
Campus Martius will be open Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. year round, she said. Both museums will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Easter.