Wacoans might want to use this weekend and early next week to beat the spring break crowds at local tourist attractions, before visitors traveling the Interstate 35 corridor start flocking in on their way to the coast, local officials said.

With Baylor and many local school districts out for spring break, Cameron Park Zoo and other attractions are seeing a small boost in visitors, but not the usual amount brought in during the month of March. That’s all been dependent on the weather, attraction representatives said.

Waco and surrounding areas will see a 40 to 60 percent chance of thunderstorms between Friday and Saturday night, but skies are expected to clear up some going into Sunday, according to the National Weather Service of Fort Worth.

But as the start to Waco’s tourism season gets underway, officials are expecting an influx of visitors for the next few weeks, said Carla Pendergraft, marketing director for Waco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In March 2015, before Magnolia Market moved downtown, 86,000 people visited local attractions, Pendergraft said. The number of visitors drastically rose to 195,259 in March 2016, up from 134,957 in February 2016, she said. Of the 195,259 visitors last March, 95,000 attended Magnolia Market, she said.

“We consider March the beginning of the peak tourist season over the years,” Pendergraft said. “It just keeps that big number in March, and it goes down a little bit in April, then back up some in May. Then, in June, July and August, we break 200,000. We feel so fortunate to be part of this, It’s really wonderful.”

“The mammoth site and the Rangers museum, their numbers are way up,” she said.

Dallas resident Tammi Regelean said she was visiting Magnolia Market for the first time while in town for spring break with her two daughters and their friends to visit relatives in China Spring.

“We’re just here visiting for a few days. This is an amazing family location. I wish I had this when I was little. It’s awesome,” Regelean said as she lounged on a bean bag chair at the market and watched her girls play volleyball in the courtyard. “I never thought Waco would be one of those locations. There’s actually something to do here. We went to Spice (Village) and then we came here and I didn’t expect to even want to come in because I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, look at the lines.’ ”

But after finding a good parking space nearby, she knew they could handle the crowd, she said.

Pendergraft advised visitors to visit Magnolia Market in the morning and see the rest of Waco in the afternoon. The bureau launched an app last month to give visitors ideas for what to do around town, she said. A search “Waco TX” or “Waco” in the Play Store for Android or App Store for iPhones and will turn up the app’s heart icon with Waco’s “Flying W,” she said.

Weather slows zoo traffic

The first week of spring break has been slow at the Cameron Park Zoo because of dreary weather, zoo spokeswoman Duane McGregor said Thursday. But the second week of spring break is always busy because that’s when the majority of students are out of school across the state and Central Texas, McGregor said.

“There’s no way to predict the numbers. Last year, I want to say we put in around 35,000,” she said. “We get hit with three weeks. The first week is usually Baylor and the Waco schools, and the second week is the majority of schools and colleges. And the third week, we get another wave, but it’s a smaller group.”

The zoo’s website has information about shuttles that alleviate tight parking during peak times. It also lets visitors buy tickets in advance to avoid lines at the gate, McGregor said.

Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum also has seen a boost in attendance in the last few years, with March usually bringing in high numbers, spokeswoman Rebecca Tucker Nall said.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, visitors can make brain cells out of candy, observe the dissection of sheep brains and witness an electrophysiology experiment with experts from Baylor’s psychology and neuroscience department. The special exhibits mark brain awareness day, Nall said.

The museum also will offer Tales and Trails on the Brazos from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Guests can see a trick roper performance, hear live music and more in the museum’s Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail, which is directly tied to Waco’s history, Nall said.

Meanwhile, spring break traffic is already keeping the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum “crazy busy,” spokeswoman Christine Rothenbush said.

“We always have a good steady flow of people from the local community and also different areas of Texas during spring break,” Rothenbush said. “The way Texas is kind of set up is each school can kind of choose their own spring break week, and so there are two main weeks of spring break. That helps because it kind of spreads it out.”

Many of the museum’s visitors are coming from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and stopping on the way to San Antonio and Padre Island, or other coastal areas, she said.

“By the time they’ve gotten an hour and a half to two hours into their drive, they’re ready to stop and stretch their legs,” Rothenbush said. “So they come to Waco as one of their stops along their route. They come to the museum, grab a bite to eat, do Magnolia or whatever they’re interested in and then continue down to the capital in Austin, and continue that way to San Antonio or detour and go to the beach. It makes for a good location for us.”

Barring the chance for bad weather, she’s hoping the museum will see a strong turnout for its annual spring break event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday called the Spring Break Roundup. Each year, between the two major spring break travel weeks, the museum hosts a guest speaker and a re-enactment group called Texas Top Guns to show off what the Texas Rangers were like in the 1800s, with a camp site, a chuck wagon and more, she said.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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