Rowan holds top two spots for NC field trips
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Rowan County is home to the two top field trip destinations in North Carolina this year.
For the third time in the last five years, the Lazy Five Ranch in Mooresville is North Carolina's most visited school field trip destination.
The popular zoo and animal attraction led in field trip attendance in an annual survey conducted by Carolina Publishing & Associates of Matthews, which publishes Carolina Field Trips Magazine.
Dan Nicholas Park, a county park in Salisbury, finished second in the survey. Patterson Farm Market and Tours in Mount Ulla came in at number 20.
James Meacham, executive director of the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said school field trips bolster the economic impact of tourism in Rowan County, especially when they come from out of town. He said he's glad to see that Rowan businesses continue to be popular destinations.
"It speaks to the rich diversity of the product that we have that appeals to groups, specifically school groups," Meacham said. "It also references the value that Lazy 5, Dan Nicholas and Patterson Farm offer in activities and in terms of price."
He said two things stand out about Rowan's three top field-trip attractions.
"One is the authentic product they're offering, along with a hands-on experience, whether it's farming, animals or nature," Meacham said. "Also, each site does an excellent job of marketing to schools for field trips."
Lazy 5 saw a slight increase in field trip attendance this year with 126,278 students visiting.
"We're obviously honored to be ranked as North Carolina's number one field trip attraction again this year," said Lazy 5 Ranch owner and president Henry Hampton in a press release. "We're very humbled by the continued support of students, visitors and educators throughout the state. The staff at the Lazy 5 Ranch works hard to improve the visitors experience when they come here and we're always anxious to hear suggestions on how we can make things better."
Dan Nicholas Park had 120,890 student visitors.
Don Bringle, Rowan County's parks and recreation director, said he thinks Dan Nicholas is popular with school groups because of its low cost and educational value.
Not only does the park offer guided nature walks and creek walks, Bringle said, it also introduces children to gemology through its gem mine.
"I'm excited to know we are ranked number two in North Carolina for tours for school children that benefit from the educational resources we provide to them," Bringle said.
Sam Rogers, publisher of Carolina Field Trips magazine, said Dan Nicholas Park is popular in part because it's "user friendly."
"It's very easy to access off the interstate," Rogers said. "The nice thing about Dan Nicholas Park is that people pay for services as they use them. There's not a general admission fee."
Lazy 5 Ranch does charge an admission fee, he said, but it attracts a lot of groups with children.
"Both have different admission structures, and both have done a marvelous job," Rogers said. "They're clean, well-kept... and they both have good products."
As an example of how the attractions draw in visitors, Rogers mentioned that the annual Autumn Jubilee festival is coming up this weekend at Dan Nicholas Park.
The free event, which features a variety of crafts, food, games, music and other entertainment, will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Rogers also praised Patterson Farm for its "tremendous group business" in the field of agritourism.
Rounding out the top five biggest field trip attractions in the survey were the Natural Science Center in Greensboro with 116,633 visitors, the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro with 115,452 and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh with 112,274.
Other attractions among the top ten in this year's survey were Discovery Place in Charlotte, Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, The Schiele Museum in Gastonia, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill and the NC History Museum in Raleigh.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.