Originally created 01/13/04

Towpath visitors overlook museum



Patrons of the Augusta Canal's popular towpath are affluent and well-educated but largely unaware of the new Interpretive Center at the other end of the waterway, according to a new survey.

Those who have visited the $3 million, 11,000-square-foot visitors center and museum give high marks for the facility that opened last year - and also tend to reside outside the Augusta area.

The survey was funded by the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and piloted at the Augusta Canal and five other heritage areas in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Massachusetts.

The intent, said Canal Authority Executive Director Dayton Sherrouse, is to refine marketing strategies and identify areas where improvements are needed.

"It's a way to develop profiles of users, demographics, frequency of visits, how much they spent, that sort of thing," he said.

The survey was modeled after a National Park Service program administered by Michigan State University. Local surveyors gathered data from 462 canal visitors.

Canal marketing director Rebecca Rogers said the two-part survey covers visitors to the towpath area in one segment, and visitors to the interpretive center in the other.

"As far as the towpath, some of it just confirms what you'd expect," she said, noting that 92 percent of people surveyed live in Richmond or Columbia County, and only 7 percent were first-time users.

Most towpath visitors - 93 percent - had not visited the new interpretive center, according to the survey. And 63 percent were not even aware of it, despite the growing popularity of the new canal tour boat based there.

The most popular towpath activity was bicycling, with walking a close second. Twelve percent of respondents were walking pets.

"We also had a nice spread of adults," she said. About 25 percent were age 26-35, 25 percent were 36-45 and 25 percent were 46-55.

Towpath visitors did say better accessibility and directions were needed.

"Those were lowest in the attributes," Ms. Rogers said. "That was something we're already aware of, so it's not surprising. But it points out an area where we have room to improve."

Visitors to the new interpretive center, which has been open less than a year, tended to be first-time visitors, she said.

"We were surprised that 40 percent of them are from outside Augusta, and they reported an average stay of 2.8 nights," she said.

SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS

PART I: TOWPATH USERS

  • 93 percent have been there before.
  • 92 percent live in Richmond County or Columbia County
  • 93 percent have not visited the interpretive center
  • 61 percent are not aware of the interpretive center
  • 75 percent are there for exercise
  • 45 percent are there for recreation
  • PART II: INTERPRETIVE CENTER USERS

  • 40 percent are from outside metro Augusta
  • Average stay in Augusta: 2.8 nights
  • Females outnumber male visitors 2-to-1
  • 66 percent have household incomes above $50,000
  • Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.