GETTYSBURG, Pa. — What's better than a sesquicentennial? For Gettysburg National Military Park, the answer might be the year that follows.
The park is gearing up for the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which is less than a month away. While last year's events drew unprecedented crowds to the park, officials see this year as an opportunity to capitalize on that success.
"We want to build on that interest and find new and different ways for visitors to connect with the battlefield," park spokesperson Katie Lawhon said.
Almost 3.8 million guests visited Gettysburg in 2013, a 12-percent increase over 2012, according to Destination Gettysburg, Adams County's marketing organization. Of these guests, an estimated 235,000 came during or close to the battle's sesquicentennial, when more than 400 events were held in 10 days.
The trick, officials said, is getting these same people to come back again.
"We are proud of these numbers," Norris Flowers, president of Destination Gettysburg, said in a new release. "But, at the same time, we know that the tourism community must work hard to keep visitation strong."
By offering new programs this year, including an opportunity to explore the home of an African American family who found itself caught in the turmoil of battle, park officials hope to keep visitors coming back for more.
"It offers a more intimate way to connect with the history of the Brian family," Lawhon said. "And it's something we couldn't do last year with 40,000 people on Cemetery Ridge."
The park is also crowdsourcing its Pickett's Charge program on July 3 to find out which topics are most important to visitors. Ahead of the event, the park will post information about soldiers who took place in the battle on its Facebook page and its blog, "From the Fields of Gettysburg." Visitors can then chime in about which of the soldiers they want to hear about during the July 3 ranger-guided walk.
Other first-time offerings include a nightly campfire at Pitzer Woods and a program called "An Unending Procession of Stretchers," which will examine the consequences of Pickett's Charge.
On average, the park leads a couple hundred people on battlefield walks during the anniversary, Lawhon said. Another 6,000 to 10,000 go through the visitor center each day.
While the park is expecting smaller crowds than last year, it still plans to offer programs that will please families and hard-core history buffs alike.
"Our goal is to offer something for everyone," Lawhon said.
Tourism in Adams County increased 12 percent in 2013
Almost 3.8 million people visited Adams County last year, marking a roughly 12-percent increase over 2012, acccording to a news release from Destination Gettysburg, the county's tourism organization.
This growth is thanks in part to the 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg and President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which drew in an estimated 235,000 and 10,000 visitors.
"Last year, our greatest challenge was spreading visitation out of the course of the entire year," Destination Gettysburg President Norris Flowers said in a release.
Tourism numbers have steadily increase in the past four years, from 3.09 million in 2010 to 3.4 million in 2012.
These numbers are calculated by the California University of Pennsylvania's Tourism Research Center, a group used by Destination Gettysburg since 2007.
More on guided walking tours
Park rangers and Licensed Battlefield Guides will offer a series free guided walks and talks that discuss, explore and reflect on the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1 through 3.