PARKERSBURG - Beginning May 1, the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park will open for the 2014 season as visitors begin taking sternwheeler rides to visit the restored mansion and tour the historic island.
Park superintendent Matt Baker said the 2013 season was a positive one, with high attendance throughout the summer.
While the weather was often rainy, Baker said most of the weekends were clear and drew good attendance throughout the season.
"It's also attributable to our special events," he said. "We had a lot more special events, dinner cruises and things like that which give people new reasons to come out."
With the opening of the island on May 1, visitors can board the Island Belle Sternwheeler at Point Park in downtown Parkersburg for the trips to and from Blennerhassett Island.
Boat ride tickets will be sold at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History at Second and Juliana streets in downtown Parkersburg, two blocks from the docking area at the city floodwall. This year's season will see a $1 increase in boat ride tickets, but no other changes, Baker said.
The rates are: museum admission $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 3-12; boat ride, $10 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-12; mansion tour, $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 3-12; and wagon ride, $5 each for all ages.
In a program that began in 2012, a couple of discounts will be available to visitors. Sundays are "Senior Sundays" with seniors age 60 and older getting $1 off boat tickets and $2 off museum admission. A military discount will give $1 off boat tickets every day for active military members, as well as $2 off museum admission.
Beginning May 1 and running through early June, the island will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday. The museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The hours will change at various times throughout the season. The island is usually closed on Mondays, but will be open on Memorial Day and Labor Day. The museum will be open on Mondays by appointment only.
For information or directions, call 304-420-4800 or online at www.blennerhassettislandstatepark.com.
In 2013, Baker said the former ticket booth near the floodwall entrance was leased out as a concession stand. Continuing that program this year, the stand will sell food items and refreshments during the island's hours of operation and will also be open during special events downtown like the Point Park Music Series, depending on the concessionaire's plans and abilities, he said.
The main feature of Blennerhassett Island is the reconstructed Blennerhassett Mansion, which is furnished with many artifacts owned by Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett or coming from that period.
Other artifacts and items can be seen on display at the Blennerhassett Museum, which features three stories of exhibits, a video display telling the story of the Blennerhassetts and a gift shop.
Visits to the island provide visitors with the opportunity to take mansion tours guided by docents in period clothing and take narrated wagon rides. There are also bicycle rentals, a gift shop and a concession stand. A volunteer-operated golf cart is also available for those with mobility issues.
The Hardly Able Carriage Co., owned by John Smith of Ellenboro, W.Va., will return for another year of offering the wagon rides on the island. The company also provides wagon rides at North Bend State Park using wooden wagons hand-built by Smith and his family.
The Island Belle is also available for charters when not involved in transporting visitors between Parkersburg and the island. A number of specialty cruises and activities have remained or have been added to the schedule for this year, he said.
"We're expanding the operations of the Belle a lot this year," Baker said.
Beginning in June, Blennerhassett Island will also bring back some popular programs, including the Island Frolic and the Sundae Sunday cruise. Additional dates are planned for the popular "Brunch with Margaret" program, Baker said.
The first special event of the season will be the annual Rendezvous on the River from May 7-10. Pioneer re-enactors will set up camp on the island and show how early settlers and pioneers lived with authentic camps, demonstrations and period dress.
In June, the island's annual West Virginia Day Celebration is being expanded, Baker said. In addition to the annual birthday cake program on June 20, additional activities are planned on June 21-22 including a Civil War encampment with battle re-enactments, he said.
"We will also have a Civil War-era baseball team playing against some of the re-enactors," Baker said.
Last year, Baker said the island added monthly nature hikes on the first Saturday of each month from June through October. Those hikes proved very popular, he said, and will be returning this season. The tours will focus on a variety of things, including songbirds, trees, a nature treasure hunt, bugs and river ecology. A special "moth night" will be held in July.
"They were very kid-friendly and family-friendly," Baker said of the nature hikes.
Over the past several years, park employees have been restoring the historic Putnam-Houser House, which was transported to the island from Belpre. The Putnam-Houser House was completed in 2009 and is open Fridays through Sundays this summer. Tours are free and will be guided by docents. A donation box is available with proceeds going to help maintain the historic home.
More volunteers are always needed on the island and in the museum. Volunteers can work in the gift shops in both places or learn to be docents and give tours of the mansion. For mansion docents, training and period clothing is provided.
For more information about Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park or the Blennerhassett Museum, call 304-420-4800.