Few complaints about Spencer fees

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SPENCER — Logan Maldonado, 2, stood on the train seat next to his father and took in everything.
He pointed outside to all the buildings of the old Spencer Shops repair yard. And he eagerly passed his ticket to the conductor coming down the aisle so it could be punched.
Across from Logan, 10-year-old Spencer sometimes rolled his eyes at his young brother’s excitement.
Driving his two sons from their home in Cary Saturday morning, Neil Maldonado had paid a little less than $20 for them all to have full run of the N.C. Transportation Museum, including rides on the train and turntable.
It marked the first weekend the museum charged an admission price, and visitors Friday and Saturday lodged few complaints.
“Most of them are OK with it,” said LeAnne Johnson, volunteer coordinator at the museum and a chief ticket/wrist-band processor for the first two days of this brave new world.
Budget cuts have meant significant changes at many state-run tourist attractions, including higher admission prices, fewer amenities and reduced hours or days.
For the N.C. Transportation Museum, it has meant charging an admission price for the first time. In the past, visitors could see all the museum’s exhibits for free, though there was a ticket price if you wanted a train ride or a spin on the turntable.
Now adults must pay $10; seniors, $8; military personnel, $8; and children 3 to 12, $6. Children under 3 are free. Those prices include train rides and the turntable.
If you just want to see only the museum’s exhibits without a train ride, the price is half.
Scooby and Jennie Runner, who live in northern Virginia, came to North Carolina with their three children to visit the transportation museum and the Thomas school bus factory.
They paid $38 total Saturday — $20 for the adults and $18 for the children.
“That’s dirt cheap,” Jenni Runner said.
Scooby Runner said a family often has “to pay an arm and a leg to get in” other attractions. “I don’t think that’s too bad,” he said of the N.C. Transportation Museum’s cost.
Rebekah Johnson of Greensboro said her family’s visit Saturday to the transportation museum was its third, “and to be honest, I was always kind of stunned you didn’t have to pay.”
Johnson said the $25 to $30 her family paid for admission Saturday was reasonable for something that’s educational and entertaining for the children. “I feel that’s fair,” she added.
She noted that train rides always had cost something anyway.
Most of the visitors are from out of town and look up information about the museum online before they make the trip. Many people interviewed Saturday were aware of the new admission policy, or they came expecting to pay something.
Larry Neal, chief of museum operations and education, said the fact the museum would be charging an admission was displayed prominently on its website and emphasized on the automated message system.
The N.C. Transportation Museum was the last of the state’s “Big Four” tourist attractions to charge admission, Neal said. The other three — the USS North Carolina battleship in Wilmington, Tryon Palace in New Bern and Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo — already were charging.
Attendance at the transportation museum did not seem to be adversely affected, LeAnne Johnson and Deal reported.
“It was steady all day long yesterday (Friday) and all day today,” Neal said.
Killing some time on their return home from a coastal vacation, Gilford and Susie Harris of Rutherford County knew they wouldn’t have time to include the train ride and still meet friends in Kannapolis, so they just paid $5 each to see the rest of the museum.
“We expected to pay,” Susie Harris said.
Gilford Harris is a longtime railroad buff, who has visited the well-known rail museum in Strasburg, Pa. “And, of course, you pay there,” he said, even though he happened to take advantage of a free Wednesday.
Frank and Loraine Thompson traveled to the museum from Rural Hall with Frank’s parents, Phil and Betsy Thompson, who were visiting from Harrisburg, Pa.
“We planned on riding the train anyway, so we knew it wasn’t a free visit,” Loraine said, as they paid their admission.
Phil Thompson is a huge train buff. He has a working scale model train on 1,000 feet of track in his back yard in Pennsylvania, where state government also has been dealing with major budget shortfalls.
“If the increase is small, I can understand it,” Thompson said. “These are really great attractions. I’d hate to see them close.”
Phil Thompson said one of the nicer things about the Spencer museum is the train ride. He and his wife laughed that the museum as a whole is a nice place for them to hang out because most of the artifacts are older than they are.
Phil and his son said the admission price was fair.
“This was the only museum I’ve gone to in the past where I didn’t pay,” Phil Thompson said.
Early into his family’s tour of the museum grounds Saturday, Michael Cooper was reserving judgment on whether the $38 his family of five paid for admission and train rides was worth it.
“We haven’t seen everything yet, so we don’t know,” Cooper said.
Emilie and Tyler Kingsford brought their 2-year-old son, Mason, to the museum because of the fascination he already shows for trains.
Living in Winston-Salem, the Kingsfords had checked online before their visit and knew there would be an admission charge.
But they thought it was $20 well-spent.
“It’s pretty cool,” Tyler Kingsford said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.