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From the Desk of County Commissioner
 Marty Qually

(7/2014) On June 17th TripAdvisor, the worldís largest travel website, announced its ranking for the past yearís best landmarks around the world. The Gettysburg National Military Park ranked 9th in the world and 1st in the United States. These ranks are without question a result of the incredibly successful 150th commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg. For those of you, who do not use TripAdvisor, it is rapidly becoming the most popular tool to plan your vacation. These rankings and the exposure that they bring are critical for our area tourism economy. But what do we do now that the 150th is over? To answer that question, I had a conversation with the leadership at Destination Gettysburg (formerly the Gettysburg Convention and Visitorís Bureau) to see how we move on after this success year and what part, if any, Adams County government has to play in our future success.

In 2013, Destination Gettysburg was one of several organizations leading the charge behind the epic 150th Anniversary Commemoration of both the Battle of Gettysburg and President Abraham Lincolnís Gettysburg Address. In 2014, that same organization has shifted its focus toward marketing the experiences beyond the history and showcasing the culture rarely found in small towns.

"The history and heritage of Gettysburg will always be the destinationís legacy," said Norris Flowers, President of Destination Gettysburg. "We arenít ignoring that as a key attraction for visitors to travel here, but we are placing a greater emphasis on experiences that take these visitors into unchartered areas of the town and the county." These new experiences, said Flowers, will inevitably extend the visitors stay by offering a wider array of opportunities for families, couples and individuals. These experiences include the countyís wineries, orchards, health and relaxation, antiquing, outdoor recreation, great restaurants and family-friendly attractions.

"The goal with our new strategy and marketing is to target a younger audience to off-set the aging of our current market," Fox added. "We will continue to interact with our current visitors as we shift our focus to our new core audience. We are also looking to extend the length of stay and grow our overall visitation."

Since we are discussing history, it is appropriate for me to explain some "behind the scenes" history between Adams County and Destination Gettysburg. To be frank County government and Destination Gettysburg have not always seen eye to eye on some issues. They did their job and we did ours, and the less we stepped on each otherís toes the better. Sort of like two grade school wallflowers forced to dance with each other, but when the song was over were eager to go back to their corners. I will admit I was one of the first to say, "who couldnít market Gettysburg, especially for the 150th commemoration?" I am the first to admit that I was wrong. The TripAdvisor rankings did not happen by accident and "anybody" could not have created and orchestrated our successful 150th Commemoration. It took a lot of effort and community support to achieve those results. Destination Gettysburg was one of the lead champions of that success.

In working side by side with Destination Gettysburg staff during the 150th planning phases, County staff and elected officials began to see how much we each shared a common vision for the future of Adams County. Since last July it is fair to say that instead of hugging the walls, we are now moving in a coordinated dance. Our efforts are two-fold. First, we are working together strengthening the links between tourism and agriculture. Second, we are working with local municipalities to assist them in creating more business friendly communities. For those of you living in Maryland this may sound like business as usual, since the planning and economic development teams in Frederick County coordinate effortlessly with the tourism community. A positive collaborative relationship between Adams County government and Destination Gettysburg is a paradigm shift.

Two new words that everyone in our rural communities should add to their lexicon are agritourism and agritainment. The definition of both words overlap into the act of using various products and experiences to attract visitors to agricultural sites. Think pick your own fruit operations, hay rides, the concerts and fireworks at Crumland Farms, corn mazes, our area wineries, and burgeoning hard cider operations. All of these businesses succeed by bringing visitors, both tourists and locals alike, onto farms and orchards to spend money beyond just the purchase of farm and orchard products. As Norris Flowers mentioned, itís not just about visiting a place, itís about creating an experience. With our nationally recognized fruit industry and internationally known civil war history Adams County is prime real estate for agritourism. After a day visiting downtown Gettysburg, an evening sitting at one of our wineries is a great way to reflect on the historical lessons learned. Visiting one of our farmers markets to get provisions before an all-day tour of the battlefield, brings to light the best of both worlds. It has become obvious to Adams County government that we play an important role in the continued success of both our tourism and farming industries.

The challenge is that some of our local planning ordinances have failed to evolve as our agrarian community has added new events and products to their properties. What property setbacks should be used for a roadside farmers market stand versus a barn or shed? Do you need to add a modern sprinkler system to a 100 year old barn that has become a venue for weddings? What OSHA or USDA safety measures apply to going into a farm maze or picking your own apples? Are concerts or civil war reenactments allowable uses in agriculturally zoned areas? As you can see these questions become confusing and in the end the answer is too often to the detriment of our revitalizing entrepreneurial spirit. In Adams County we understand that our 34 different municipalities are having a challenge reacting to these changing business opportunities. We also understand that while Destination Gettysburg can help these businesses market their products, they cannot help them navigate and promote change within our Commonwealth municipal planning structure. That is where our County Planning Department can help.

Over the past year and so long as this Board of Commissioners sits in the Courthouse our Planning Department will serve as an aid to municipal planners and tourism experts. They are already working to create regional plans among multiple municipalities, plans that will better clarify future business zones. This past year Planning conducted long overdue economic development surveys. They are partnering with the Adams County Economic Development Corporation outlining strategies to municipal and community organizations on how best to be business friendly. And lastly, more specific to the discussion on agritourism, I would like to see Destination Gettysburg, County Planning, municipal officials, and agritourism businesses work together on a set of recommendations to assist municipalities to create business friendly regulations and ordinances for agritourism.

While our history and our rural community have created a stable economic base, we must find more ways to work together and move Adams County into the future. I am encouraged by the strides we have taken together so far. Iím proud of how our community stepped it up a notch for the 150th commemoration. Most of all I am optimistic that the strengthened partnership between County government and Destination Gettysburg will pivot our community and our local economy for future successes.

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