By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – The Springfield Armory National Historic Site is taking steps to increase visitation and community outreach.
Superintendent James Woolsey recently released a report on the site’s activities about the same time the National Park Service (NPS) issued its report on how many tourists visited the parks and the economic impact.
The Armory is the only NPS location in Western Massachusetts and the report for 2012 indicated that 16,978 people came to the museum resulting in an economic impact of $913,600. The NPS report offered no comparison to previous years as is using new methodology for that year.
Affecting 2013 figures, according to a separate report, was the effect of the government shutdown from Oct. 1 through 16. According to the report, “A 7.88 million decline in overall NPS October visitation resulting in a loss of $414 million NPS visitor spending within gateway communities across the country; [and] gateway communities near 45 parks experienced a loss of more than $2 million in NPS related October visitor spending.”
While there are no specific figures available for the Armory, Woolsey told Reminder Publications that he “knew for a fact that people came and did not come back.”
He estimated around 1,000 visitors were turned away.
While Woolsey cannot influence the decisions of Congress, he has taken steps to make visiting the Armory, on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College, an easier experience. There will be new signage on Interstate 91 and on city streets guiding visitors to the Armory.
“Some might see this as a relative minor thing, Woolsey said, “but it’s our number one complaint.”
He said the Armory administration had to work with both city officials and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on the permitting.
The signs direct travelers to tune into 1710 on their AM radios to hear a message about activities at the Armory, he added.
He also said the Armory is undertaking greater outreach to area school systems and colleges to being more students to the site. His report indicated the Armory hosted several professional development workshops in 2013 in conjunction with Westfield State University and the Collaborative for Educational Services to raise its profile among educators and researchers. This past summer the Armory conducted its first Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program to plan classroom materials for elementary and middle school children for lessons on the Armory and Shay’s Rebellion.
The start of the Springfield Armory Alliance Inc., a nonprofit friends group, is also expected to assist the Armory staff in improving the grounds and advocating on half of the site, Woolsey explained.
In the Armory’s report the president of the new group, City Councilor Melvin Edwards said, “The members of the Springfield Armory Alliance understand that like a diamond that must be cut, shaped, and polished, the Armory needs some tender loving care. We share fond memories of the beautiful Victory Gardens on the grounds of the arsenal, family members who once worked here, and this sprawling facility's enormous contribution to the economic viability of the City of Homes.”
For more information on the Armory and its programs go to www.nps.gov/spar/index.htm