Tourism better than expected
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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
Some local tourist attractions saw an increase in visitors over the summer in some cases record numbers which mirrors higher-than-expected numbers at some major state attractions. “Our numbers have been up,” said Jude Sheppard, executive director of the Blaine County Hi s to r i cal Museum. Sheppard said the 4,440 visitors who came to the museum through the end of September is the highest number on record. The total through the end of 2008 was 4,313. The Associated Press reports that some top-end destinations in the state also saw an increase of visitors during the tourist season, with officials saying an increase in visitation to national parks and people not traveling far when going on vacation led to the state numbers being better than expected. For the first time at Yellowstone National Park, more than 3 million people were counted in the first nine months of the year, up 8.7 percent Over the same period in 2008. At the end of September, the number of visitors to Glacier National Park was up 13.4 percent. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area had an increase of 19.5 percent, and the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument saw a 9.8 percent increase. Not all local attractions saw an increase though. Lila Redding said the museums in Rudyard were down a bit, which she attributes to the drop in the economy in the last year. “We didn't do bad,” she said. “We thought it was a little down from last year, but we still had a pretty good summer.” She said the visitors generally tour all three museums in Rudyard, the historical Depot Museum, the dinosaur display and the classic car museum. Gary Wilson, president of the Fort Assinniboine Preservation Association, said numbers were down at the fort south of Havre. He said, for him, success in funding work at the site helps offset the disappointing numbers. “The bad part is it's way down, but the grants are way up, our building work is up,” he said. He said he is hopeful that new marketing which better ties together the U.S. and Canadian forts on the historic Old Forts Trail will help bring those numbers up. New brochures and a new Web site promoting the different forts on the trail and their historic connection are in the works. That could bring many people to Fort Assinniboine, especially tying it in to the visitors to Fort Calgary and the international airport in Calgary, he said. “In theory, you're putting 100,000 people into the pipeline who visit the other forts,” Wilson said. Numbers are up for some other attractions. Christy Owens, office manager of Havre Beneath the Streets and the Frank DeRosa Railroad Museum, said that through September the exhibits of historic sites displayed in the tunnels beneath the 200 block of 1st Street had about 500 more visitors than last year. Through September, the site had more than 7,300 visitors this year. Most of the people who come to Havre Beneath the Streets also come to the railroad museum, and about 300 more visit just that museum, Owens said. She said that, although the sites are still seeing visitors from out of Montana and overseas, more do seem to be coming from Montana and Canada. “I think a lot of people are staying closer to home,” Owens said. The Blaine County Wildlife Museum, which shows mounted Montana animals in displays representing their natural habitat, had a good first year with some 2,000 visitors, said Debra Davies. “The Chinook All Class Reunion, held over the Fourth of July, gave the Wildlife Museum an exceptional boost with approximately 800 visitors in three days,” she added. The new museum ended its regular season Labor Day weekend, although it was open for the annual Sugarbeet Festival and will open during Chinook's Christmas Stroll and Parade of Lights and also is setting tours by appointment. Stephanie Martin, the National Park Service ranger at Bear Paw Battlefield south of Chinook, said that site also saw an increase in visitors. The total last year was just fewer than 7,000, and Bear Paw saw 8,890 visitors this year. Martin said the number did shift to more in-state visitors, with fewer out-of-state and international travelers than last year. She said a new program for the Havre area also brought a new connection to local sites, with volunteers providing information about cultural and historic sites and local history to Amtrak passengers en route from Havre to North Dakota. “(We) reached 10,420 people with our Trails and Rails programs on the Empire Builder,” Martin said. The Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump archaeological site behind the Holiday Village Mall also saw an increase in visitors over last year, said Anna Brumley, manager of the site. Wahkpa Chu'gn had about 250 more visitors than last year, with a good mix of Montanans, Canadians and international tourists, she said. “It was a good year for us,” Brumley said.