Gettysburg Code Enforcement Officer Peter Griffioen, who has been in his position since December, said he has recently made patrols on Friday and Saturday evenings to study the many guided walking tours that have started up with the spring weather.
Griffioen said he found many of the tour leaders to be in violation of borough codes, but that the operators were working with him to better comply. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement these last few weeks,” he said. “They needed some reminders.”
“Their business is an important one – it’s incredibly popular. People are really excited about taking a ghost tour,” he said. “It’s been great to meet the operators. A lot of them know me now. As long as they know my expectations, we have the opportunity to talk about them.”
“I’m not a police officer but I am out there making sure people are doing the right things. I’m obligated to be sure things are done safely.”
Gettysburg Walking Tours/Gettysburg Ghost Tours and Gifts manager Johlene “Spooky” Riley said she was glad Griffioen was enforcing the codes. “Most of the tour companies are in compliance and want to the job safely and in an entertaining manner,” she said. “We’ve been here for almost 20 years, and we’re looking forward to another prosperous year. We’ve always policed it ourselves. It makes it better for us.”
Griffioen said there were currently 18 licensed companies providing walking tours. “Some of them have one guide; some of them have a dozen; some of them do 2 or 3 tours an evening,” he said.
“Some don’t’ have a brick and mortar building, but that’s not required.”
Guided walking tours are regulated by a borough code and companies must pay a $125 annual permit. Businesses must also pay the 5 percent amusement/admissions tax collected by the borough and shared between the borough and the Gettysburg Area School District.
The code limits each tour to 26 people including the guide and requires that groups remain either one block or a minimum of 50 feet apart. The ordinance says groups should not “interfere with the peace and tranquility of occupants” and that they should not interfere with vehicle or pedestrian traffic.
“They are already relatively close together,” said Griffioen. “With one guide and 25 participants, how can you not block the sidewalk? It’s up to the guides to let their participants know they have to make a lane.”
Another problem is that some tours use annunciators to amplify the voice of the guide while others do not.
Griffioen said most of the tours are the in Steinwehr Ave. tourist district. “There are a lot of similarities in the tours including stopping at the Farnsworth House with its bullet holes,” he said.
Most of the evening tours are “ghost tours” that emphasize a combination of history and paranormal activities, but others focus on local churches or buildings on the Gettysburg College campus.
Griffioen said he had had many conversations with operators and written some initial warnings. “I told them if I come into contact with them again they might receive a citation.”
Gettysburg Borough plans to create a committee to investigate and potentially modify the ordinance. “I can see some room for improvement, but the ordinance is in good shape,” said Griffioen. “We’ll be getting input and advice from the tour operators.”