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Yesterday appeals to today’s tourist

Dan Sherman

When an employee of Carson City went on summer vacation a few years back, she returned with a marketing idea for the historic city that now draws tourists from across the U.S.

and Europe.

Mary Walker traveled to Boston and traced the painted red line of the Freedom Trail, a three-mile walking tour of 16 historic sites and structures in downtown Boston and Charlestown.

Marveling at Faneuil Hall where American patriots met, the infamous Boston Tea Party site, and the Old North Church where Paul Revere hung his lanterns, a light went off in her head.

“Why can’t we do this in Carson City?” she asked the town’s leaders when she returned.

And quicker than you can say “Midnight Ride,” Carson City had it’s own version, the Kit Carson Trail.

The 2.5-mile path marked with a painted blue line anchors the city’s successful tourist business.

“We’d actually been using history as a marketing hook for a dozen years,” said Candy Duncan, executive director of the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau.

“But we needed to make it more of a ‘product’ to get tourists to see our city as more than just a day trip.”

The Trail is a walking path through Carson City’s residential district on the west side of town.

It features more than 60 landmarks including 1800s-era Victorian-style homes, museums and churches.

“We produced a large map with watercolors of the different houses and descriptions of them and put them in our brochure and in a downloadable pdf on our site, http://www.visitcarsoncity.com,” said Duncan.

Visitors can hear the houses tell their own stories, by tuning in their car radios or walkmans to certain AM frequencies.

“We equipped 24 of the houses with radio transmitters so that they give 90 second narratives of their history, complete with sound effects like train whistles and horse-drawn carriages,” said Duncan.

The Trail plays a starring role in two events which help draws tourists from far away to the state’s capital.

“On Memorial Day, we offer the Wild West Tour,” said Duncan.

“Professional actors in costume lead tours and tell stories about the houses.We change the theme of the tour every year.

The most recent version,Women in the Wild West, was extremely popular.”

Visitors with a more Stephen Kingtype bent, appreciate the second event held in October.

“We collected ghost stories told about the houses, and we run a ‘Ghost Walk’ led by actors dressed in black and portraying widows and widowers,” said Duncan.

“It’s so popular, that we hold two tours.

At the last event, we attracted 1,000 people during the day.”

To get the word out, Duncan does some radio advertising in Sacramento, and print ads locally.

She sees these tours as an opportunity for people to get inside homes they normally would not be able to visit.

“We’re attracting people who have an appreciation for architecture and history.

Most people who come on these walks have a secret wish that they could own or live in houses like these.”

The houses all are occupied either by families or businesses, but occupants don’t mind the intrusion, said Duncan.

“We bring plastic mats and cover the carpets,” she said, “and we offer to clean anyone’s carpets free afterwards if they ask.We also place docents in each house to ensure that visitors don’t enter rooms they are restricted from.” Merchants benefit from the tours, as Duncan involves them in marketing programs geared to steering hungry and thirsty walkers their way.

“When people sign up for the tour, we hand out coupons and flyers from the downtown merchants which encourage them to go to various places to eat and shop,” said Duncan.

“I’ve heard from the merchants that they get a lot of business this way.” As tourism with a historic hook continues to be a draw for the city, Duncan has set her sights on another, even more ambitious project.

“We’re working with Virginia City now on a joint marketing program that involves extending the B&T railroad,” said Duncan.

“Right now it runs from Virginia City to Gold Hill, but we hope to extend it another 14 miles to Carson City and run a steam engine on it.We could serve dinner, and maybe even offer a melodrama like having it be robbed.”


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