Colonial Williamsburg's admissions down in 2011

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) -- Colonial Williamsburg says its paid admission for the historic area fell in 2011 in what it called a challenging year.

The area recorded 670,500 paid general admission tickets in 2011, down about 2 percent from the 686,000 the year before. But its total visitation for 2011 remained the same at 1.7 million. The gate count formula compares total visitation to Colonial Williamsburg's open setting with attendance at gated or turnstile sites. Entrance to the area is free, but admission tickets are needed for access to certain buildings.

Officials say attendance was negatively impacted by a decline in consumer confidence coupled with extreme weather conditions.

"At the start of 2011, there was reason for cautious optimism, but as the year unfolded, the realities of the world around us -- the uncertain economy and political gridlock in Washington, as well as both an earthquake and hurricane -- turned out to be unusually challenging," Colin G. Campbell, president and CEO of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, said in a statement.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates and maintains the preserved 18th century site as an educational and tourist venue.

Fundraising, however, increased in 2011 as nearly 109,000 donors nationwide made gifts totaling $14.5 million compared with $14.3 million in 2010. Officials say Virginians accounted for 16 percent of the donors.

Looking ahead to 2012, Colonial Williamsburg says it will be the site of a Civil War encampment in May to commemorate the Battle of Williamsburg as part of events to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

The art museums at the historic area also will feature new exhibitions, including an original 18th-century fire engine, an exhibition of tall case clocks, American folk art portraits, "tramp art" or notched carved wooden objects, and historical keyboard instruments.

Officials for Colonial Williamsburg also say they are continuing to forge a closer link between the area and Jamestowne in order to provide new, integrated programs to help tell the stories of Jamestowne's struggles to survive.

The Williamsburg Inn, which was included on U.S. News & World Report's list of best hotels in the U.S., also is celebrating its 75th anniversary.