Erie, Pa., Area Parks Enjoy Busy Summer
Matt May doesn't need to look at a calendar to know when something big is going on in Erie, Pa.
Instead, he looks around his campground, located on Sterrettania Road just north of Interstate 90. During major events this summer, May's Presque Isle Passage campground, formerly Hills Family Campground, has been packed, the Erie Times-News reported.
"For Roar on the Shore and Discover Presque Isle, we were full to capacity. Actually, it's been very busy here all summer," May said.
The summer of 2011, just about at its midpoint, is shaping up to be hot financially for many tourism-related businesses. And with CelebrateErie, the Wattsburg-Erie County Fair and more steamy weather ahead, businesses that depend on a share of the region's $92 million annual tourist trade should prosper.
"By the information that I have, which is really from talking to tourism operators, business this summer is very good," said John Oliver, president of VisitErie, previously the Erie Convention & Visitors Bureau. "From some of the hoteliers I've talked to, it seems like it's even approaching pre-2007-08 levels, before the economy took a downturn."
Gas prices that are $1 a gallon higher than last summer may be fueling the surge in local tourism. Pittsburgh-area families that previously drove to the Jersey Shore or the Outer Banks now are coming to Presque Isle, Oliver said.
"They literally can drive to Erie, vacation and drive home almost on a single tank of gas," he said.
Jeff Ore, co-owner of Penn Shore Winery and Vineyards on East Lake Road in North East, has noticed a similar trend this summer.
"We're hearing things like, 'We've always gone to the Finger Lakes but heard about the Lake Erie region and are trying it out.' It seems like the region as a whole has become more of a destination for people, especially for people from downstate," Ore said.
Business at Penn Shore has heated up accordingly this summer, said Ore, who estimates that 200 to 300 people tour the winery daily. Saturday night "Music in the Vineyards" concerts draw an average of 450 more people weekly, Ore said.
"Business is up across the boards," Ore said.
Local wineries, as a group, also attract visitors from much farther afield through fall, Ore said. "I just spoke to a couple from Norway. We've also had people from Germany and Russia recently, and from all 50 states."
Local campgrounds are also hosting a number of long-distance travelers, as May can also tell by looking around — at the license plates on vehicles parked at the 140 campsites, 35 tent sites, and 14 rental cabins and apartments.
"We've had people from Canada, Florida, California, Colorado and even from Alaska come through," May said. "Our location is pretty central, and I think that's had a lot to do with it. We tell people that we're 10 minutes from everything that they want to do in this region."
Including mid-July's Roar on the Shore motorcycle festival, which attracted an estimated 80,000 bikers and generated at least $26 million for the region's economy in mid-July, said a spokeswoman for the Manufacturer & Business Association, which helped organize the event. Those numbers outdistanced the 2010 event, which attracted an estimated 50,000 bikers and $18 million.
Also just minutes down the road from the campground are the beaches of Presque Isle State Park, which are attracting similar numbers of visitors as they did in 2010, despite the summer's wet start. The park has had an estimated 2.4 million visitors through July, compared with nearly 2.6 million at this time in 2010, a park spokeswoman said.
At Waldameer Park & Water World, which operates on about the same Memorial Day-through-Labor-Day schedule, revenues so far are at or slightly above last summer at this time, park President Steve Gorman said.
New rides, gardens and benches in the park's multimillion-dollar North End expansion are especially popular with park visitors. The new Flying Swing, based on rider counts, is one of the park's top five rides, he said.
"We're having a good summer, and the weather has turned out to be a big factor," Gorman said.
Weather through the rest of the summer should continue to drive tourism, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, which predicts a drier-than-average August and a cool, dry September.