Town sees both the good and bad in the expected unprecedented number of visitors
June 28, 2013 12:00 PM
Bradley C Bower/for the Post Gazette
Karen Smith, Dobbin House Tavern gift shop manager, discusses the preparations the store has made for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
By Tom Barnes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Adams County Commissioner Jim Martin is used to seeing big crowds flocking to the county's most famous town in early July.
But he's sure that the 10-day period that begins today will be crazier than anything from previous years.
"We could be looking at 30,000 or more folks coming here each day -- or 300,000 for the 10 days, many more than in a normal year," he said.
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From July 1 to 3, when the battle was fought here in 1863, "There could maybe be 40,000 a day. So I want to tell everyone that patience is the key."
The onslaught of tourists will mark the 150th anniversary of the battle, which is seen as the point when the Civil War began to turn against the South. Visitors will be able to watch battle re-enactments, trod the ground where the fighting occurred, check out dozens of monuments to soldiers and hear tour guides describe the intricate movements of Union and Confederate troops over those three days.
The huge numbers of outsiders descending on this town of 8,000 is being seen as both good and bad news for locals.
Good, because the hundreds of restaurants, taverns, souvenir shops, ice cream parlors, hotels, bus tours and other firms that cater to visitors will likely make hefty profits. Many business have added daily hours and staff.
"We always do a good business in the summer, but this year will be over the top," said Karen Smith, manager of a gift shop at the Dobbin House Tavern, more than 200 years old. "This will be a life-changing event, but we'll try to take it in stride."
Mike Gladfelter, owner of Mr. G's ice cream shop on Baltimore Street, said, "It's going to be a great couple of weeks -- something none of us has seen in years. People will be out walking the streets on hot days and they like ice cream."
"We're stocking up, buying extra books, hats, plaques and other souvenirs," said Beth Gardner, a clerk at The House of Bender, a shop in Lincoln Square. "We're looking forward to doing business. It's fun to be busy rather than just sitting around."
But there's also a downside, with traffic gridlock virtually guaranteed on local roads -- nearly all two-lane -- that lead into the battlefield and to Lincoln Square, which is surrounded by a one-way traffic circle in the center of town.
Some local residents are already planning to vacation, dine and shop in other places until after July 8, when the anniversary celebration subsides a bit.
"We are staying away from town for these 10 days, to beat the crowds," said Gettysburg resident Deborah Zullich, who was taking a self-guided walking tour around downtown Tuesday with her son Russell, 12.
To prepare for the unprecedented numbers of visitors, officials from Gettysburg, Adams County and the state Department of Transportation recently hired a private firm do a five-week, $36,000 study of roads and parking.
PennDOT was needed because several state roads connect to the town center, such as Route 34, Route 30 and Route 97. Also, Route 15 is a four-lane state road that passes a couple of miles east of the town center and leads north to Harrisburg and south to Maryland.
One of the plan's major recommendations was the creation of free park-and-ride lots at numerous locations around the Gettysburg National Military Park and the traffic circle in the town center.
"We are suggesting that visitors park at one of the key shuttle lots," said Stacey Fox, vice president of the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau.
A map of the shuttle lots is available at www.gettysburgcivilwar150.com. The lots will have travel information and water for visitors, plus free parking for vehicles and free bus transportation to battlefield sites, events and re-enactments.
In addition, for the days of two battle re-enactments, one on June 29-30 and the other from July 4-7, free parking and shuttle transportation will be available at Gettysburg Area High School, 1130 Old Harrisburg Road.
Other information about events is available online at www.nps.gov/gett and at www.gettysburgtravel.com. Visitors also can pick up a printed guide to all events at the National Park Visitors Center on Baltimore Pike.
"We're asking people to try to take it easy because we're all in this together,'' said state Trooper Robert Hicks. State police will work with Gettysburg police to keep traffic moving as smoothly as possible, but they know there will be many tie-ups and frustration.
National Park officials will use Facebook and Twitter to let visitors know of any last-minute program changes, such as if rain forces cancellation of an outdoor event.
More than 300 people who work in the Gettysburg tourism industry have been given extra "hospitality training'' to help them deal with crowds looking for destinations, Ms. Fox said.
The recently completed transportation plan recommended painting a lane stripe on the one-way road that circles the town center, where a historic hotel from the 1860s is located. All of its 119 rooms are booked for July, as are rooms in many other hotels in Gettysburg and surrounding towns.
Officials think that painting a line down the middle of the traffic circle would make it easier for people who park in spaces along the circle to back out without interrupting the flow of cars around the circle.
Also, police on foot patrols will work in the town center to keep pedestrians from stopping the flow of cars around the traffic circle, Mr. Martin said. New traffic signs are being put in to help travelers get around, including some changeable electronic signs, he added.
Mr. Martin suggested other modes of transportation to events. "Bicycling would be wise. Either bring your own or get one from a local bike shop. Scooters and Segways are also available."
Downtown pub owner Nick Wagaman said, "It'll be overwhelming at times, but we welcome the influx of visitors and hope for repeat customers."