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Bucks tourism grants top $1 million

Hotel tax provides funds for museums, historic sites and other attractions and organizations to lure visitors.

Bucks County's museums are bringing in traveling exhibits, its historic sites are publicizing events, and other attractions are getting much-needed funding, thanks to a tourism grant program that has surpassed the $1 million mark.

The Mercer Museum, for example, will use its Spring grant of $15,000 "for the fees for the Apron Chronicles Exhibit, and for promotion inside and beyond Bucks County," executive vice president Molly W. Lowell said Tuesday.

And the Friends of Washington Crossing will spend its $30,000 grant "to market our showcase events, such as the Christmas Crossing," said John Godzieba, who plays George Washington for the annual reenactment that draws thousands. "It's not just a regional event, but a national event."

The grant program, which started in 2008, is funded by the county's 3 percent hotel tax. The tax raises about $2.2 million a year, with about $400,000 used for grants.

With the 23 grants awarded Tuesday, ranging from $1,000 for the Actors Net to $30,000 for Washington Crossing, the program's total reached $1.27 million, said Jerry Lepping, executive director of Visit Bucks County.

Over the years, the grants have been used for redesigning websites, marketing, producing promotional videos and capital improvements, he said. The top five recipients are the James A. Michener Art Museum, $185,000; Friends of Washington Crossing, $120,000; Mercer Museum, $115,000; Bucks County Wine Trail, $95,000; and the Pearl S. Buck House, $70,500.

Tourism is the second largest industry in the county and the state, Lepping said, generating $814 million in revenue and supporting more than 11,000 jobs in Bucks each year.

In the past 12 months, occupancy at the county's motels, hotels and B&Bs was up 2.8 percent, and total revenue was up 4.1 percent, he said.

The increased business benefitted grant recipients such as Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve outside New Hope, which received a Spring grant of $17,500.

"We'll use it to build an Audubon birding trail with interpretive panels identifying birds, so people understand the role plants play in keeping birds healthy," said Miles Arnott, executive director of the preserve.

"We'll also use it for marketing," he said, "to spread the word to birders and attract them to the county."