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Special to The Lancaster News
The reports coming in from the sites who participated in the Ag+ArtTour of Lancaster County show the event was a great success both for the participants and for visitors, many whom toured the sites for the first time.
A partnership of Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, Olde English District Tourism Commission, Lancaster Agribusiness Center, Lancaster County Council of the Arts, and See Lancaster SC, this weekend long event will be held annually as an invitation to visit Lancaster County’s agricultural and arts treasures. On June 21-23, record numbers of “agri-tourists” descended upon local farms and markets, cultural sites and artists’ studios, driving away to the next stop with arms loaded with locally grown and handmade gifts, and “refueling stops” at restaurants featuring farm-fresh products on the menus.
The weekend began with a sold-out kick-off event at The Ivy Place, a historic farm which still boasts fields of strawberries, vegetables, and flowers set among an 1800s farmhouse, barns, and a renovated guest cottage. With perfect weather, the day was reminiscent of an old-time family reunion picnic on the lawn.
The free events began at June 22 with lines of cars turning off main roads on a self-guided trek through the county.
Farms, markets, historical, and arts locations tallied visitors until 5 p.m., capturing information with informal surveys to show where visitors hailed from and how they learned of the event. The 1-5 p.m. tour hours on June 23 were a successful repeat of Saturday’s popularity.
Collected and compiled data from the 24 participating locations shows an overwhelming percentage of visitors from zip codes other than Lancaster, and comments indicate a majority of first-time tourists. The partnering agencies plan a follow-up meeting within the next few weeks, which will provide guidance for the 2014 Ag+ArtTour of Lancaster County already in the works.
While the surveys and information collected from tour participants will tell the stories of “who, what, and where,” the real stories of the tour’s success came from visitors.
As they found their way from place to place, they carried passports with maps, site and restaurant information, and punch cards that volunteers checked off as their tour progressed.
Excitement could be seen in their eyes as they talked of the places they had been, the experiences they enjoyed and where their tour would next lead them.
Many had mapped a two-day tour from the website and schedule of special events that included orchard and herb garden tours, artist demonstrations, beer and food pairings (yes, Lancaster is home to a microbrewery), quilter guild and museum exhibits, Native American artists of every kind, a hammered dulcimer player, alpacas with owners weaving wool to fiber and beautifully restored historic homes and landmarks.
For many, this was an opportunity to learn about Lancaster, and for others the tour offered the opportunity to visit sites that would otherwise not be available during a weekend outing.
As the first-time-ever for Lancaster County, the tour was a great opportunity to learn first-hand what type experiences agritourism travelers enjoy in order to welcome them with a new appreciation of the wonderful assets that we have right in our own backyards.