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Tourism in Harford saves each household $1,100 a year in taxes, officials say

The Maryland Barbecue Bash is one of the biggest events of the year held in Harford County and brings thousands of people to the county.
The Maryland Barbecue Bash is one of the biggest events of the year held in Harford County and brings thousands of people to the county. (MATT BUTTON AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

It’s summertime and tourism in Harford County is in full swing, with thousands of people visiting the area to experience attractions, festivals, restaurants and other amenities.

“May through September is when we have most of the events that occur in Harford County,” Visit Harford! Executive Director Greg Pizzuto said. “The beauty of Harford County is the outdoors, it’s one of our biggest attractions. Hiking and biking in the state parks, county parks to the waterfront, it makes sense to be in better weather months.”

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Tourism is a $374 million a year — about $1 million a day — business in the county, according to figures from 2017 (the most recent available) provided by Pizzuto, and that benefits residents.

Since 2015, each household has saved $1,100 a year in taxes because of the impact of visitor spending in Maryland, and specifically Harford County, he said.

“The money generated [through taxes] comes back to either the state or the county, and that goes toward infrastructure and other things in the budgets,” Pizzuto said.

Without those tourism dollars, taxpayers would have to pay for amenities and other things “tourism dollars and revenue helps generally to offset,” he said.

“Tourism has a very positive impact on quality of life for Harford County residents,” he said. “Many of them get it, they embrace it. We want to raise awareness of just what it is tourism is doing for Harford County.”

Harford County government has supported tourism, investing $7.5 million in local non-profits, since 2015.

“It allowed us to help support these activities that draw tourists with money to spend in our county, and create opportunities and experiences for our own citizens,” Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County government, said.

Tourism also employs 7,331 people directly or indirectly, such as staff at restaurants, hotels, the Aberdeen IronBirds, anyone in the arts and entertainment world, Pizzuto said. That has a trickle down effect, like restaurants buying food from their suppliers.

Those jobs generated $254 million in labor income and accounted for 6.1 percent of total employment in Maryland.

“You have to understand the economic reality of what tourism does and what comes back here,” he said.

The largest one-day event in Harford is the Darlington Apple Festival, which draws thousands of visitors to the small town in northern Harford County.

The top destination is Ladew Gardens in Monkton, which draws 45,000 people a year, according to Pizzuto.

“It gets international visitors,” Pizzuto said. “They’re only open April through October, but they put a lot of people through there.”

Besides the beauty of the grounds, visitors can see the various art installed in the meadows, attend one of the summertime Groovin’ in the Grass concerts and tour the manor house.

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“You can go there four to five times a year and see four to five different gardens because of when things bloom,” Pizzuto said. “It’s constantly changing.”

Sports tourism — youth soccer, lacrosse and youth baseball at the Cal Ripken Experience in Aberdeen — accounts for a significant portion of tourism in Harford County, Pizzuto said.

From 2016 to 2018, sports tourism had a $49 million impact per year in the county, he said.

“These coaches and teams come from all over the nation and spend money in our local restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues,” Pizzuto said. “They are an important part of our tourism income.”

Some of that income may be in jeopardy after the 2020 season.

The 12 fields at Carsins Run Park off Aldino Road — used as overflow for tournaments at Cedar Lane Regional Park at the intersection of Route 543 and 136 —will no longer be available because the 460-acre property is part of is in agricultural preservation.

“We’re still looking for alternatives,” Pizzuto said.

People come to the county with money to spend, and that’s a good thing, Mumby said. It means job growth and economic activity.

Among the groups and events the county has supported are the Harford County Farm Fair, the barn quilt trail, the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra, the Maryland Barbecue Bash, APG Discovery Center and the Havre de Grace Colored School.

“Not only do these activities draw tourists with all the economic benefits to our county, they improve the quality of life for you and me, the people who live here,” Mumby said. “So tourism is a win-win.”

Drawing more visitors

Visit Harford! is always looking at ways to generate more tourism dollars, which can be done in two ways: “Expand what we’re currently doing and create new events, new reasons for people to come here,” Pizzuto said. “Having new events is critical to continuing to drive numbers in a positive way.”

He pointed to Ladew Gardens’ Garden Glow, which in its first year last year drew 1,200 potential new people from Pennsylvania and surrounding areas “because it was unique in the mid-Atlantic."

Because last year’s one-day event was so successful, Ladew is expanding it to two days this fall, Pizzuto said.

“Maybe they grow it to five days and it gets even bigger and it’s another reason for people to come to Harford County,” he said. “We at Visit Harford! are constantly looking for potential new events we can bring here, partner with other people bringing new events to the area.

Visit Harford! help promote those events, like Hops to Grapes beer, wine and whiskey festival scheduled for Oct. 19, and get them off the ground.

Phil McGuire, owner of Kinda Jerky Really Nutty, and his wife Jessica have attended about 200 different festivals and other events over the last four years and want to create something not seen before in Harford.

“We really know what our audience is looking for," McGuire said.

When they talked about ideas, they wanted to have something with a lot of space, and they chose Mount Retreat, a farm at the intersection of Route 543 and 136 in Creswell that’s been in the Smith family for more than 100 years.

“We want it to be a very open and very comfortable feeling to roam around this beautiful farm,” he said. “Ours is more of an experience, it’s really showcasing Harford County.”

Visitors will be able to taste unlimited samples from 15 breweries, 30 wines and five whiskey distillers and listen to live music from singer/songwriter Tim Williams.

A shuttle will run from MacGregor’s in Havre de Grace, Independent Brewery in Bel Air and Fallston Barrel House to the farm and back.

“We really want people to enjoy the four corners of Harford County,” McGuire said.

Ticket prices range from $14.99 for the designated driver to $84.99 for VIP packages. Tickets can be purchased through the website, www.hops2grapes.com.

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