Originally created 11/28/01

Parks build on history for tourists



ST. SIMONS ISLAND - Fort Frederica National Monument is working on plans to re-create history in human form as state historic sites are building on their ability to draw tourists.

A National Park Service draft on Fort Frederica's plan calls for more living history actors showing visitors what life was like in the 18th-century fortified city, said David E. Libman, a Park Service planner.

"It's open, it's grassy. It's beautiful out there but it's not what was here," Mr. Libman said of the 20th-century version of Frederica that has the ruins of a barracks and powder magazine, foundations and earthworks on a bluff overlooking the Frederica River.

"There were palisades, houses, some brick, some wood, and a lot of soldiers," he said.

There are no plans to re-create the fort but, if the preferred alternative is approved and funded at the end of a long process, there could be what Mr. Libman called "a few little elements here and there."

"The idea is to create a more sensory perception of what Frederica was like. We're not going to have Colonial Williamsburg here. We're not going to have Frederica World like Disney World," Mr. Libman said.

The park might increase the number of costumed re-enactors demonstrating crafts and life skills, and perhaps have more black-powder musket firings with their sound and smoke.

Building plans could include a dock to allow approaches by river on tour boats and water taxis.

"That's the way people came, by boat," Superintendent Mike Tennent said.

Just a year after Fort King George Historic Site opened a replica of the enlisted men's barracks, two new buildings are going up. Contractors are erecting a 20-foot-by-30-foot officers' quarters and a 17-foot-by-20-foot hospital, all made of cypress timbers like those used in that 18th-century fort.

The first of the three new buildings is already paying dividends, said Steven Smith, the park's interpretive ranger.

"Last year we had more visitors than ever," Mr. Smith said.

The site's recent Drums Along the Altamaha observance drew one of the largest crowds ever with an encampment, an American Indian demonstration and frequent musket and cannon firings.

The park will use its new buildings to draw more crowds, Mr. Smith said. The enlisted men's barracks housed two colonial dinners and another to honor Scottish poet Robert Burns is planned, Mr. Smith said.

"It's mostly added to our programming," Mr. Smith said of the new buildings. The dinners broke even but could become fund-raisers especially for Friends of Fort King George, a local organization that supports the fort, Mr. Smith said.

Fort McAllister, a combined park and historic site at Richmond Hill, recently opened a new visitors center and museum to display its Civil War era artifacts. In addition to its earthen fortifications, Fort McAllister has an underground hospital, powder magazine and other historic structures.

There is little new at Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation north of Brunswick but it still gets its share of visitors, said Bill Rivers, the superintendent of the state historic site.

"We're probably not a destination. We're probably a stop-in site," Mr. Rivers said of the park that has an old plantation house on what was a pre-Civil War rice plantation and later a dairy farm.

"We get a good number of Europeans, mostly Germans, followed by English, Belgian and the Netherlands," Mr. Rivers said.

An American vacation is a way for Europeans, especially Germans, to economize, Mr. Rivers said.

"They have lots of money, they get long vacations, and it's cheaper over here than in Western Europe," especially for food and accommodations, Mr. Rivers said. The most frequently visited historic site on the coast is Wormsloe Plantation, which has ruins and a museum, said Kim Hatcher, the spokeswoman for the state park system.

"That's because it's near Savannah, where people go for historic tourism," Ms. Hatcher said.

And Ms. Hatcher said a recent survey shows that taking in historic sites is a goal for Georgians.

"Georgia Tech's tourism survey showed history was the number one thing people want to do on vacation. That surprised a lot of us," she said.

The four purely historic sites along the coast drew nearly 146,000 visitors in the fiscal year that ended June 30 while Fort McAllister, which also has a campground and boat ramp, drew 128,570.

The state's busiest site is Little White House in Warm Springs, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt came for the hot mineral springs and where he died. That site attracts more than 98,000 visitors a year, many of them foreign tourists, Ms. Hatcher said.

In spite of their extra amenities, the coastal sites drew about 274,500 visitors, less than Fort Frederica's 300,000.

HISTORIC SITES

A list of Georgia's historic parks and historic sites in the southeastern part of the state and their visitation between July 1, 2000, and June 30:

Fort McAllister Historic Park, Richmond Hill, 128,570

Wormsloe Plantation Historic Site, Savannah, 66,214

Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation Historic Site, Brunswick, 52,349

Fort King George Historic Site, Darien, 44,463

Fort Morris Historic Site, Midway, 15,227

Lapham-Patterson House Historic Site, Thomasville, 3,573