Poor economy doesn’t mean tourism stops

Published 11:01 pm Saturday, December 27, 2008

Don’t let the bad news about the economy ruin an opportunity for some quality family discovery and learning time. There are plenty of fun educational sightseeing opportunities for all ages that will not break the bank or your budget.

Many fine art studios, craft shops and museums offer free tours or charge a nominal admission fee. Factories and shops often conduct tours of their production facilities and plants.

Sometimes they’ll even provide free samples of their wares. I’m speaking from firsthand experience here as I sampled the fares at ice cream plants and chocolate factories.

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Just do a little research and you’ll be able to craft an interesting day trip with plenty of free or reduced priced admissions.

I went to the State of Ohio’s tourism Web site www.discoverohio.com and typed in the key words “factory tour” and received two pages of possible visits. Typing the words “free tours” at this site resulted in 245 hits. Most states have a tourism Web site and I find these to be a wealth of travel ideas and information.

Looking for a Tri-State themed tour I started my search at www-.wvvisit.org

(Cabell-Hunting-ton Convention and Visitors Bureau) Web site proceeded to www.visitashlandky.com (Ashland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau site) and finished off with Lawrence County (Ohio) information. I could have expanded my search to Portsmouth, Charleston, W.Va., and beyond but the immediate river cities provided plenty of content.

Locally we are fortunate to have some excellent places to visit that offer great tours without an entrance fee. One place that I frequently bring out of town guests to is the Huntington Museum of Art, one of our regions hidden gems.

It is nationally acclaimed and its permanent collections feature a nice collection of 19th and 20th century American and European art, American and European glass, Georgian silver, British portraits and antique firearms.

At certain times you can view world class traveling exhibits like the recent Marilyn Monroe and Civil War in Photograph displays. There is a small admission fee, but on Tuesdays they waive the charge and let you in for free.

Another treasure is the Museum of Radio and Technology. Here near Huntington’s Old Central City you can see the largest radio museum in the eastern United States. On display are hundreds of old radios from the 1920s to the 1950s, telegraph items, early televisions, and complete recreation of a 1920’s radio shop, library, gift shop, and much more. This is a favorite tour stop of River Barge Explorer and Delta Queen passengers during their port call here in Huntington. Open on weekends in the winter month’s admission is free but donations are gladly accepted.

For art enthusiasts, the Birke Art Gallery is another great venue. Located on the first floor of Smith Hall on the Marshall University campus it has classroom, lab and exhibit space. It is an area that allows developing art students to display their works. Galleries and displays frequently change so check with the gallery staff for current information.

Across the river and through the woods to Ohio University’s Ironton campus I go to view their faculty and student art gallery.

Located in the Dingus Technology facility you’ll discover wide ranging displays and exhibits. Also on display in the hallways of the various campus building are additional works created by local artists.

Crossing the Ohio River once again into Ashland I’ll head to the Pendleton Art Center and explore this fascinating place. The facility is Ashland’s home to artists and craftspeople who display a broad range of talents. This is a hands on interactive environment a place where you can see artisans working in their studios or take a class to improve your artistic talents.

Time permitting the Left Bank Cafe, located inside is a great place to stop for lunch, breakfast or a place to pick up a souvenir for those visiting from out of town.

I’ve timed my journey to depart in the early evening and then a few blocks to Ashland’s Central Park and the Winter Wonderland of Lights. This is a spectacular display of Christmas lights and sights. You’ll need to circle the area a few times to take in all that there is to see.

It’s time to head home back to Ironton but there’s one more driving tour before the PT Cruiser is parked for the night. We’ll take a swing through Coal Grove’s Paul Porter Park and its wonderful holiday light display before calling it a day.