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Busing New York:Field Trips and Local Paths Through History

field-trip_students_busOn May 30, 2013, I wrote about a high school teacher who took a class to Greece and wondered how that teacher would go about creating a visit to New York State. He used a travel agent because multiple paths through Greek history exist and he could pick the one he wanted. One might think that something similar could be done in New York but consider the following examples.

The Historical Society of Rockland County has numerous bus trips throughout the year. They sell out and are well received. They also are mainly in Rockland County which the Society, of course knows well. After that post about Greece, I received a private email which I am authorized to share. The Society would like to expand its bus programs beyond the county but encountered problems.

I read with interest, as we at Hist Soc of Rockland have a committee planning local bus trips. I have been particularly interested in setting up another NY one.

The first trip I organized was in 2010 when a historic book reading club asked me if we at HSRC would arrange a trip to see D&H canal. It was a great trip…Kingston Maritime Museum, D&H Canal Museum, a personal visit to farmer home with remnants of canal in backyard, and his food stand in Accord….

Increasingly difficult to price affordably due to increasing bus prices, getting small enough buses that can go on small streets, …Economy of scale.

2012 we had fab tours of each of the county’s 5 towns that we repeated due to demand. 1/2 day, ended with a lunch. That worked very well.

2013 Kykuit & Hist Hudson (in Westchester), Bergen County (across the border in NJ) highlights are full day. Half day trips are Oldest churches, local cemeteries, Pipe organ tour.

We have an upstate NY trip planned, but not set yet. Trying to tackle it as our first overnight; need a volunteer willing and able to take on the responsibility. Watervliet Arsenal, Albany NYS Museum, Iroquois site in Fonda, Auburn and Seward, were some of the ideas of places to patch together.
Too many ideas, too little time, but we WILL get there!

Our committee thought I LOVE NY should have canned NYS bus trips. They need us “up there”, and there is a lot to see!

Please keep me/us informed. Call me nuts, but I think the advancing swell of the baby boomers implies an increased interest in history.

Cathy Quinn Oswald

Here are some takeaways from the email:

1. Lack of canned bus trips/paths
2. Time consuming to create one’s own trip/path
3. Market for staycations: New Yorkers visiting the sites of New York
4. Expense of buses.

A retired teacher group based in Rochester contacted me about creating a War of 1812 bus trip. I put him in contact with some people. After all the back and forth, the trip ended up being a one-day car visit to a single site. How hard should it have been to find a War of 1812 bus tour during the War of 1812 Bicentennial?

The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society decided to have a trip to the Hudson Valley in celebration of the 225th anniversary of New York ratifying the Constitution and becoming the 11th state. The trip included visits to Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, and Putnam counties. I attended one event in Poughkeepsie. The executive director of the society lives in Florida. He put in a lot of time, a lot of time,  with the Dutchess County Tourism Department putting together the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley path they would take July 26-July 28. Fortunately his daughter was working as an intern this summer in Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, Orange County, and she also put in a lot of time helping to organize the tour. Hours, upon hours. Is that the way we want out-of-state tourist groups to visit New York?

As an experiment, let’s see how many of the sites the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society visited will be participating in the Ramble, the Path to History precursor in the Hudson Valley, in September. Let’s see if it will be possible to visit them in a coordinated weekend program as the Society did.

So here is yet another challenge:

1. Let’s create paths.

2. Let’s create American Revolution paths especially in New York City, the Hudson Valley, the Mohawk Valley, and the Champlain Valley so groups interested in the American Revolution like the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society or perhaps teachers can more easily tour our state.

3. Let’s ask Albany to update the Path through History website so instead of it only asking people to shop individual sites and then create a path (have to you tried doing it?) it can list defined paths for each region for each theme as the regions create them.

4. Let’s present tour operators with planned paths that can be promoted to groups so people can easily select and modify paths in the geographical and thematic areas of their choice.

I have a dream that one day the Rochester retired teachers group, the Historical Society of Rockland County, the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society and all the other potential visitors and tourists to and in New York State will be able to tour the state easily. Is that so much ask as we near the one-year anniversary of the Path through History project?

PS The post on the high school teacher going to Greece concluded with:

“At the upcoming NYSHA conference which I am attending, the State Historian, NYSHA, APHNYS and other history related agencies will meet privately to discuss the direction of history themed activities in the state. There certainly is a lot to talk about and I look forward to the results of that discussion.”

Does anyone know what was discussed?

Photo by the National Park Service.

6 thoughts on “Busing New York:Field Trips and Local Paths Through History

  1. I am in the process of compiling a listing of museums, historic markers, murals with history themes (we have 29 so far), and other sites of historic interest in Wayne County in cooperation with our WHO (Wayne Historians Organization) network. In June of this year, I lead a car pool tour of several museums and historic sites in the Erie Canal corridor. Within the next few months I hope to have the listing put together in some sort of useable format. From there, it wouldn’t be too hard to set up a tour. I know our 18 or so small museums would LOVE to have more visitors, and they will bend over backwards to work with those who would like to come see their collections.

    I am more than willing to help arrange “tours” here in Wayne County. As a retired Social Studies teacher, Town Historian, and active participant in local history projects for over 40 years, hopefully I have enough background to pick some interesting “stuff” for Cultural Heritage tourists to see.

    Gene Bavis

  2. Hi Peter,

    As usual, you make some very good points.

    The Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area has developed a few “paths” on their page of “suggested itineraries” that might be of interest:

    I am aware of them because HRVI’s own James M. Johnson developed the itineraries on the American Revolution. And they invite others to submit potential itineraries as well. It would be wonderful if the groups you mention that have developed itineraries contribute them to the HRVNHA so that they can be formatted to match their templates and placed online here.

    THEN our work will be to promote the itineraries to see if they prove useful to student and other groups.

    keep up the good fight,


  3. Under a previous NYS administration, as some may remember, there was a Heritage NY Office dedicated to establishing 5 NYS heritage trails. They were to be organized and promoted by the heritage trails’ office, making them accessible to individual travelers and groups. What happened? A new administration of a different political persuasion was elected, and the office was closed.

  4. In 2011, I attended a conference of the Partnership for the National Trails System in Abingdon, VA, and heard there a presentation on International Tourism by Mark Brown, Sr. Market Analyst for the U. S. Department of Commerce. In his remarks, Mr. Brown cited the incredible statistics that in 2010, 33% of all international tourists to the United States had gone the New York City; that while there, they comprised 37% of all pedestrians, spent $42 BILLION or 19% of all dollars spent in the city and accounted for 51% of hotel usage. Mr. Brown also commented these tourists do “fan out.”

    He also explained that based on the federal Travel Promotion Act of 2009, an organization, now known as “Brand USA” had been formed to promote international tourism to the USA. He said funding for this work came from the $1/visa fee paid by (at least) every German visitor to the US. (This funding may now be modified. I was unable to verify this with Mr. Brown.)

    Given the fact, New York City already attracts so many international tourists, it would be wonderful if more could be done to share with them ALL the wonderful sites and sights as one travels throughout the great state of New York! I spend my summer just north of the beautiful Erie Canalway National Heritage Area. Saratoga, Fort Ticondaroga and the Adirondack High Peaks area, all rich with history are in proximity. Cooperstown, the Finger Lakes region and the Southern Tier are equally rich in history and offer breathtaking scenery as does the rest of the state. We need to help our international tourists “fan out” into beautiful New York State!

    Carolyn Suffern

  5. Peter,
    I read this post with some interest as I have helped to set up a number of bus and boat tours as part of my responsibilities with the Canal Society of NYS. There are a number of issues that must be considered and dealt with when considering a tour. Here are some random thoughts.

    1) Tours are never cheap. By far the largest cost will be the bus. Bus companies are hard to find and need to be scheduled months, if not a year in advance. The target audience for any tour will be middle to older adults who will expect to be riding on a tour bus, not a school bus. School buses are fine for a trip of less then an hour, or to shuffle people around, but not for an all day or multi day event. School buses are designed for kids, not adults. That being said, a bus will now run at least $1200-1500 day. You will also need to be able to guarantee that you will pay for the bus, even if you only sell 10 seats.

    2) The price of a bus tour always seems to shock people, both attendees and the volunteers who work to set it up. Added to the cost of the bus, you will need to provide lunch, driver tip, any museum fees, perhaps some printed handouts. On our last tour of the D&H Canal in Kingston, our one day cost per person was close to $100. This did indeed shock some into saying that we were “ripping them off”. However, we were losing money, but felt that the cost had to be kept as low as possible.

    3) Added to the bus costs, there are other costs. We pre-scout an area, which for some means that we need to travel hundreds of miles and stay overnight. We do cover or absorb some of the costs into the ticket price, but it still can cost the volunteer a few hundred out of their own pocket, even if you just take time and mileage.

    4) Add to this, there are other costs for the attendees that should be considered. Our canal society tour covers a new region each year. It is usually set up as a three day event; Friday – Sunday. Although the main event is the bus tour, we also offer other events that might hold interest but couldn’t be on the bus tour. This means that people will need to spend at least one night in a hotel, if not two. Added to this is meals, gas, gift shops, shopping, and the entire weekend will cost a couple at least $500. Certainly, a local bus trip, with local people will not cost as much, but after the locals go once, who will be the targeted audience? Places near major cities might be able to continually attract new people, but up-state?

    5) People who try to go it alone setting up tours will quickly burn out. There is a lot of work, even if checking and rechecking sites.

    6) There are only so many places that can accept buses and there are only so many places a bus can go. This limits smaller parks, places with limited parking, places on the other side of the weight limited bridge, etc. As roads get worst, even weight limits on roads is becoming an issue. On our tour, we were told at the last minute that the bus would not be able to stop at one of our stops. Although in the end, they did, it caused days of concern for the committee.

    7) There are tours or packages out there available for use. The Canal Society has tour itineraries for many places across the state. As I am sure that many larger organizations and societies do also. This might be the best place to start looking for packages that could be used or adapted. Mid-Lakes Navigation is doing excellent work putting together one day boat rides working with local historical societies and museums. The Montezuma HS and the Erie Canal Museum just used them to host one day tours along the canal.

    8) Find out who can help. Again see if a larger society or organization has guest speakers, tour guides, or just guidebooks. A local expert certainly adds to the tour.

    9) We have run car pools to save money. These can be messy and difficult to pull off, but they can work, especially for tours with one or two stops.

    10) Tours must have a purpose or a narrative. It can’t just be a collection of available stops in the neighbor-hood or the county. This might work for locals, but what is going to attract someone from NYC?
    Themes like the Canal, the Underground RR, the Rev War, etc. Again, who is the audience? If you are thinking about a packaged tour, this needs to be considered.

    11) It takes a skilled narrator to be able to pull off a tour and hold peoples interest for a day.

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