SCRANTON, Pa. – Fueled by the return of regular steam and the National Park Service’s centennial, visitation to Steamtown National Historic Site increased by 10 percent in 2016.
According to data released this week by the National Park Service, more than 99,000 people visited the park in 2016, up from 89,500 in 2015 and 84,200 people in 2014.
Superintendent Deborah Conway tells Trains News Wire that visitation would probably have topped 100,000 – a mark that hasn’t been hit since 2012 – had it not been for bad weather in December that depressed numbers during the final month of the year. In December 2016, 5,471 people visited the park, down 22 percent from December 2015 when more than 7,000 visited.
Prior to December, visitation was up between 15 and 18 percent during 2016. “The drop in December really pulled the overall visitation percentage down,” Conway says.
National Parks across the country reported record-breaking visitation thanks to people wanting to take part in the service’s 100th anniversary. Conway says having steam at the park also helps boost numbers. Steamtown’s Baldwin Locomotive Works 0-6-0 No. 26 returned to service in late 2015 and spent much of 2016 under steam leading short excursions around Scranton.
Increasing visitation to the park has been one of Conway’s primary goals since taking over as superintendent in 2014. She hopes to build on 2016’s success going forward.
“We are still in the planning stages for 2017’s program schedule so hopefully we can keep our rail operations fresh and engaging,” she says. “We will also look to get more visiting equipment for Railfest in 2017.”
Steamtown’s current visitation numbers still pale in comparison to what it attracted in the mid-1990s following its grand opening. From 1995, when the new park welcomed 211,000 people, until 2000, Steamtown welcomed more than 150,000 annually. Since then though visitation has dropped. In 2006, it hit an all time low of 61,000.
Visitation numbers for similar-sized railroad museums can vary greatly (finding consistent data can also be challenging versus the National Park Service which posts monthly and yearly visitation online for every park), however Steamtown attracts fewer people than some other major sites. The Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colo., annually brings in 100,000 people; the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore often attracts 200,000 every year; and the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, Calif., brings in upwards of 500,000 people annually.