Historic Sites Reduce Hours, Visitation Stays about Same; Some Think Publicity from Fewer Hours Has Brought More Traffic

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Byline: MIKE MORRISON

Showbiz folks say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and that old saw seems to hold true for historic sites as well.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources made headlines this year when it cut the days of operation of historic sites, including several in the southeasterern part of the state, as an austerity measure in the face of the economic recession.

Since then, business is not exactly booming, but it is better.

"I wouldn't be surprised if all the publicity we got in the media has caused visitation trends to go up," said Kim Hatcher, the DNR's public affairs officer in Atlanta.

Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation in Glynn County had its days cut from five and a half to three: Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Several staff members lost their jobs or were transferred out. And yet, on the days the site was open, more and more visitors poured through the gates, manager Bill Giles said.

"Our visitation is up 50 percent for the days we're open," Giles said.

The historic rice plantation's visitation is down 22 percent overall for July through October, he noted, but he and his reduced staff have worked hard to overcome the lost days.

"We have tried to market ourselves to keep our revenue up even though we've lost 45 percent of our hours," he said. "We've put up fliers, spread more brochures around updated with our new hours and done more special programs on Saturdays trying to keep our revenue up."

Statistics provided by Giles show an increase in attendance for July through October from 3,756 in 2008 to 5,435 to 2009.

At Fort Morris, an earthen Revolutionary War fort off the beaten path near Midway, overall visitation is down slightly from last year, manager Arthur Edgar said, but only because the park, like Hofwyl-Broadfield, is open only three days a week.

During July, August and September of this year, the Revolutionary War garrison hosted 3,343 visitors, compared with 3,903 from the same period last year.

"I expected more of a drop," Edgar said. "We're a small site, somewhat out of the way, and I didn't see how cutting our hours in half was going to help. But I'm really pleased and somewhat surprised. …