For the first time in perhaps a decade, Cumberland County will hold a series of tours aimed at attracting more visitors who could pump up its tourism economy.
The so-called “Familiarization Tour” will take representatives from media outlets, travel organizations and other groups on a seven-hour journey through six different points of interest in the county Sept. 25.
Those taking the tour will stop at the New Jersey Motorsports Park, Millville Army Air Field Museum, Wheaton Arts & Cultural Center, Levoy Theatre, Landis Theater Performing Arts Center and Southwind Winery.
County officials hope those taking the tour will spread the word about what the county has to offer in terms of tourism.
Kim Gauntt, administrator for the Cumberland County Tourism Advisory Council, said everyone involved knows the importance of making a good impression.
“If they want visitors to come here, they are going to have to do their part,” Gauntt said. “They know how important it is to get the word out.”
Cumberland County officials said growing their tourism economy is important to a county that traditionally ranks near the bottom in New Jersey in terms of economic opportunity.
There are indications their efforts are working.
State Division of Travel and Tourism data show $318 million in direct tourism sales in Cumberland County last year. That was a more than 7 percent increase from 2011, and represented a larger percentage increase than in Cape May and Ocean counties. Atlantic County’s direct tourism sales figures decreased year to year.
Cumberland County, however, has a long way to go to reach Atlantic County’s $7.6 billion tourism sales numbers for 2012, or the $5.2 billion Cape achieved. Ocean County saw $4.2 billion in direct tourism sales in 2012.
Efforts to increase tourism here — which include commercials shown on televisions throughout Atlantic City International Airport — are not only resulting in more revenue, but also some national recognition.
The county recently won the Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History for its West Jersey Time Traveler program. The program involves a series of audio podcasts that profile 15 sites, including what might be the oldest Swedish granary in the United States.
Each site involved in the program, a project of the Cumberland County Cultural & Heritage Commission, has a sign that includes a special symbol called a QR code. Visitors with smartphones and a free QR code reader app can point the phone’s camera at the sign, and an audio podcast specific to that site will load within seconds. The visitor taps the play button to listen to a 3- to 5-minute podcast.
“Many of our historic landmarks are only open a few times a year,” said Matt Pisarski, the commission’s principal planner. “Until now, if a visitor showed up hoping to experience the site, the best they could do is peer inside the windows. These interactive podcasts make it possible to have a rich experience 365 days a year, even if the building is closed.”
For those who cannot visit the sites and who do not have a smartphone, the podcasts and other information and photographs can be found at www.cumberlandhistorical.org.
The award from the American Association for State and Local History was one of 84 national awards given out by the organization this year. Only two were awarded for projects in New Jersey.
“To be recognized nationally is a great source of pride for Cumberland County,” said Cumberland County Freeholder Carl Kirstein, who serves as the board's liaison to the commission. “We have such a rich story to tell, and this is a perfect way to share it with the public.”
And the county someday may have more historic sites to share with the public, including what is believed to be the location of the only documented military action in the county during the American Revolution. The county is getting a $49,500 grant from the U.S. Park Service’s American Battlefield Preservation Program in connection with the Battle of Dallas’ Landing in Commercial Township.
In August 1781, members of a New Jersey militia unit opened fire on British loyalists trying to take a ship on the Maurice River near what is now Port Norris. The loyalists were trying to escape the region for the safety of New York City.
Many of the details of the battle were lost over time. Officials are trying to find the exact location of the battle and the burial sites of the seven loyalists killed in the engagement.
County officials said they are battling time: There are concerns that with climate change, the area could be lost to rising waters.
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