Folsom has a lot to offer visitors

By: Philip Rose
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I remember remarking to my wife Erika on our first visit to Folsom in August 2007, “this is fantastic but there are no tourists?” I was seduced by Sutter Street and the Historic District — an oasis of calm, and a place to connect with our heritage. I have spent the last six months trying to understand the lack of visitors and why, as an experienced traveler and student of history and geography, I had never heard of Folsom. Tourism is a $90-billion-per-year industry in California, employing 900,000 people and contributing more than $5 billion in tax revenues. When one considers around 26 percent of visitors want to see something “historic” as part of their trip, I would have thought Folsom would see more visitors than it does (Stats: CTTB 2009). Folsom has more to offer than most small cities in California, yet nobody seems ready to believe it. I think this is partly due to previous analysis of development opportunities suggesting that Folsom is a Gold Rush town and as such, Coloma, Sutter Creek and others do it better. We have the first railroad west of the Mississippi and a protected potential excursion and community railroad to Iron Point and toward Placerville. The railroad depot and turntable are on the National Register of Historic Places, and yet we are told Folsom cannot compete with the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Anyone who knows about railroad preservation will tell you that the museum in Sacramento is a totally different type of attraction and, if anything, would help bring visitors to our railroad. We have the Power House, the awesome and unique Sutter Street, Lake Natoma and so much more. Perhaps the marketing message is confused and shows a lack of confidence in our offerings. Just look at the sign at Scott and Riley — it reads “Folsom Historic District, Shopping, Dining, Lodging.” So “Historic District” is just the name of the shop, like 24-hour cleaning? Folsom has everything a visitor might want except maybe a castle. While trails, shopping, dining and lodging are hardly unique to Folsom, I believe what is unique to Folsom is its industrial heritage. The development of industrial mining and dredging for gold, the Natomas Water Co., the canal, the first commercial transportation of electricity for profit, the railroad depot, turntable and shops, the dye works on Wool Street, the hotels, banks and retail shops of Sutter Street, even the “industrial” incarceration of felons — it is all industrial heritage! Folsom developed as an “industrial” town, a center for business and a gateway not simply to the Sierras but also as a gateway from the Sierra to civilization and the modern world. With the recession, and changes in travel patterns and demographics, it is clear that Folsom has an opportunity to let the secret out. Let’s grab the opportunity to help our economy and preserve our heritage. Contact the Historical Society and show your support.