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GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Adams County Commissioner Jim Martin is used to seeing big crowds flocking to the county’s most famous town in early July.
But he’s sure that the next week will be crazier than anything from previous years.
“We could be looking at 30,000 or more folks coming here each day ... many more than in a normal year,” he said.
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From July 1 to 3, when the battle was fought here in 1863, “There could maybe be 40,000 a day. So I want to tell everyone that patience is the key.”
The onslaught of tourists will mark the 150th anniversary of the battle, which is seen as the point when the Civil War began to turn against the South. Visitors will be able to watch battle re-enactments, trod the ground where the fighting occurred, check out dozens of monuments to soldiers, and hear tour guides describe the intricate movements of Union and Confederate troops over those three days.
The huge numbers of outsiders descending on this town of 8,000 is being seen as both good and bad news for locals.
Good, because the hundreds of restaurants, taverns, souvenir shops, ice cream parlors, hotels, bus tours, and other business that cater to visitors will likely make hefty profits. Many business have added daily hours and staff.
“We always do a good business in the summer, but this year will be over the top,” said Karen Smith, manager of a gift shop at the Dobbin House Tavern, which is more than 200 years old. “This will be a life-changing event, but we’ll try to take it in stride.”
Mike Gladfelter, owner of Mr. G’s ice cream shop on Baltimore Street, said, “It's going to be a great couple of weeks — something none of us has seen in years. People will be out walking the streets on hot days, and they like ice cream.”
“We're stocking up, buying extra books, hats, plaques, and other souvenirs,” said Beth Gardner, a clerk at the House of Bender, a shop in Lincoln Square. “We're looking forward to doing business. It’s fun to be busy rather than just sitting around.”
But there’s a downside, with traffic gridlock virtually guaranteed on local roads — nearly all two-lane — that lead into the battlefield and to Lincoln Square, which is surrounded by a one-way traffic circle in the center of town.
Some local residents are planning to vacation, dine, and shop in other places until after July 8, when the anniversary celebration subsides a bit.
“We are staying away from town for these 10 days, to beat the crowds,” said Gettysburg resident Deborah Zullich, who was taking a self-guided walking tour around downtown Tuesday with her son Russell, 12.
To prepare for the unprecedented numbers of visitors, officials from Gettysburg, Adams County, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently hired a private firm to do a five-week, $36,000 study of roads and parking.
One of the plan’s major recommendations was the creation of free park-and-ride lots at numerous sites around Gettysburg National Military Park and the traffic circle in the town center.
A map of the shuttle lots is available at gettysburgcivilwar150.com.
Other information about events is available online at nps.gov/gett/index.htm and at gettysburgtravel.com.
State police say they will work with Gettysburg police to keep traffic moving as smoothly as possible, but they know there will be much frustration.
More than 300 people who work in the Gettysburg tourism industry have been given extra “hospitality training” to help them deal with crowds looking for destinations, said Stacey Fox, vice president of the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau.
As for lodging, many of the rooms at hotels in Gettysburg and surrounding towns are booked for July.
Downtown pub owner Nick Wagaman seems ready for the tourist onslaught: “It'll be overwhelming at times, but we welcome the influx of visitors and hope for repeat customers.”
Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tom Barnes writes for the Post-Gazette.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-623-1238.