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New River trips boost tourism

Oct. 20, 2013 @ 10:01 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Armed with 21 original murder mysteries, Huntington resident George Snider and his Murder and Merriment troupe are booked nearly every weekend from now to Christmas crisscrossing the region performing interactive dinner shows in places such as the Alban Theater and Hawk's Nest State Park.

While they love taking the show on the road, Snider said there's nothing like getting to perform in one of their favorite home spaces -- the 1887-brick-built former B&O train depot, Heritage Station.

For two weekends, Murder and Merriment will be just one of many local entities working with the annual New River Train trips, which over two weekends bring in about 4,500 tourists and about $1.6 million in economic impact to the Tri-State.

Organized annually by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, the New River Train trips began last weekend. The last two full-day round-trips from Huntington to Hinton and back are slated for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26-27.

A few tickets remain for those train trips.

Snider said they're excited to present what is their fourth train-themed, interactive murder mystery for local folks as well as some of the tourists who come in to board the New River Train.

"We're really excited to be doing a new murder mystery that we have not performed before," Snider said of the new show, "Murder on the 20th Century, Ltd.," which goes up at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25-26. "We love doing them for the New River Train crowd. We've had people from Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Florida and all over the Eastern Seaboard who've come out and who've given us a lot of positive feedback. A lot of these folks are people who've seen a lot of murder mysteries in various cities, and so it's nice to receive those kinds of kudos."

This is the third year in a row the Railroad Historical Society teamed up with Murder and Merriment to offer entertainment to both local residents and out-of-town guests on the evening before each scheduled train date.

Tyson Compton, executive director of the Cabell Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is located inside Heritage Station, said they work each year to make sure there are plenty of things to do for the tourists, who usually arrive at least a day before their trip and who often stay a day or two later.

From bus trips to the national award-winning Heritage Farm Museum and Village to area productions such as ARTS' performance of "Shenandoah" this past weekend, Compton said there are a lot of events nearby for tourists to check out.

"I think this year we have more to offer over the four days than any other time in the past," Compton said. "Some of that is good luck - like we have the Jason Mraz concert with the Marshall Artists Series and that just dropped on the right date. But we have things like the Murder Mystery all four nights, and George (Snider) really gears it for the train crowd and makes it a lot of fun for them."

Compton said one exciting thing this year is the increased activities at Heritage Station itself. They had a Fall Fest on Saturday, Oct. 19, and then have a Halloween costume party from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, with a $2,000 in cash and prizes for costume winners and live music by Nashville country rocker Stephen Salyers.

"What is interesting is when you look at all of these events, this time it certainly is a wide variety for those people who are coming in early or who are staying late," Compton said. "The day they are taking the train trip is a full day, but we are trying to give them something to do that day before or the day after."

Since the train accounts for more than 450 hotel stays per night, Compton said they also send out the CVB's weekly events list to all the hotels so they can have it at the front desk, as well as give those to Chris Lockwood, the office manager at the Railroad Historical Society to share with the folks riding the train.

While the New River Train is the area's largest annual bus tour group event, Compton said hosting the annual fall foliage trip every year since 1966 helps cement the state and region as a hot fall foliage destination.

"Fall foliage is one of those things that West Virginia is really known for," Compton said. "I was just talking with Kathy Johnson with the W.Va. Division of Tourism, and she said she always asks people what they think of when they think of West Virginia. Most of the time, people say the mountains and fall foliage, and that lets us know that people are very interested in that. If you look at the origin of a lot of the visitors on the New River Train, they are from all over the United States because there aren't a lot of these kinds of opportunities, and that's why the New River Train is so popular."

While everyone can't fit on the world-renowned New River train and its tour through the "Grand Canyon of the East" along the majestic New River, Compton said they're trying to promote the many ways that people can come to Huntington and Cabell County to enjoy the fall foliage as the region slowly creeps toward peak color.

"That is something we are working on more now," Compton said. "On our new website, we are listing attractions right now in alphabetical order, but also we are going to put them in categories so there are things for kids and heritage tourism. Right now, we are working on outdoors activities and working to promote that, things like our walking tours, which is a great way to see the leaves. When you are out and walking, you get such a different perspective than being in a car."

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