Panel's goal is more people

Group to find ways to boost attendance at fall museum event

Carroll County

January 09, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

At the urging of a county commissioner, a task force will explore ways to draw more people to Carroll County Farm Museum's Fall Harvest Days, an annual event that offers visitors the opportunity to make scarecrows, enjoy wagon rides and compete in a checkers tournament.

"This museum was opened some 35 years ago to educate the people of Carroll County and surrounding counties about our farming heritage," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge told the museum's board of governors yesterday. "If that's truly our goal, then perhaps there needs to be less emphasis on the bottom line. If we could bring our [admission] fees down, then maybe we could get more people in here."

About 9,800 people attended Fall Harvest Days at the Westminster farm museum Oct. 7 and 8, down from 10,500 people in 1999.

Museum Administrator Dottie Freeman attributed the drop in attendance to bad weather and defended the museum's admission fees. It cost $4 for adults and $2 for ages 7 to 18 to attend the event. Admission for children age 6 and younger was free.

"As a county-funded museum, we often feel we have to justify this or that program and those admission fees help our bottom line," said Freeman.

Gouge said several county residents have told her they would like to see more vendors at Fall Harvest Days. In October, more than 60 food and craft vendors set up booths at the event. However, three canceled because of bad weather.

"From what I'm hearing, it seems that we need more vendors," Gouge said. "I think the kind of crowd you get will depend on the vendors you have."

Freeman agreed, but said competition for vendors grows each year. During the second weekend of October, more than a dozen similar events were held throughout the region, including festivals in nearby Mount Airy and Sykesville.

Freeman suggested the farm museum consider promoting its family membership program, which could boost attendance to all of the museum's events. A family membership costs $40 a year for a family of up to five people and includes free admission to all museum events, except the Maryland Wine Festival.

"That's a great idea," Gouge said. "We have something here that's so wonderful, we just need to get more people to come out to the museum."

Housed in a building that was once a poorhouse, the farm museum attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year. The museum opened in 1966. It once boasted an apple orchard, smokehouse, broom shop, blacksmith building and several barns. Corn and small grain crops were planted in fields around the museum.

The apple trees are gone, but many of the original structures, which date to the 1850s, still stand. Nooks and crannies are filled with farm-related artifacts, including tools donated by Landon C. Burns, the museum's first curator.

The task force created yesterday will meet this week and is expected to report to the farm museum's board of governors at the group's March meeting.

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