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Heritage Tourism Initiative History and Background

 

(from a grant application of Spring 2003)

 

The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia has been working for preservation of our state’s historic resources for over 20 years. One of our main efforts has been the development of a West Virginia Heritage Tourism Initiative with the crucial assistance and funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

 The initiative focused on two goals:

  • Develop a demonstration program to assist local communities in the creation and implementation of heritage tourism programs in order to build local capacity and provide economic development benefits.  Frontiers-to-Mountaineers was the demonstration area selected with five counties participating in this program being: Monongalia, Preston, Marion, Harrison and Lewis.
  • Make recommendations on a statewide organizational structure and work towards establishing a statewide heritage tourism program to benefit the West Virginia economy.

 The initial stages of the initiative involved developing partnerships statewide, investigating best practices, successes and lessons from heritage tourism programs in other states, introductory workshops, and choosing the pilot demonstration region.

The demonstration effort accomplished the following:

  • Development of “Life and Times of Mountaineers” tourism product. The product highlighted twenty heritage places that tell that region’s history and a marketing campaign that included a four-color brochure, travel shows and  Internet promotions.   Over 90,000 brochures have been distributed with a reprint of an additional 50,000.
  • A Five County Heritage Survey that identified artists, performers and others who can bring heritage stories alive with their talents.  These resources will be utilized in the development of other tourism product.
  • A Frontiers to Mountaineers Preservation Plan was completed that assesses the heritage resources across the region for utilization in future tourism products and identification of key resources that need protection and/or preservation.
  • Frontiers to Mountaineers Interpretive project was launched with fifteen sites chosen from thirty-five applicants to receive the assistance and signage.
  • An economic impact study was developed that will allow for baseline data comparison of visitors at selected sites.

Examples of other work can be found in past and current activities:

  • Statewide Heritage Tourism Conference that was held in 2002.
  • Statewide Steering Committee has been working to develop a statewide effort. In addition to recommendations for structure of the future program, the Steering Committee has participated in planning workshops and sub-committee work to develop the program.
  • A second region that originally applied for the pilot region has moved forward – with grant funding and partnerships, including WV Statewide Initiative assistance – to develop the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, soon to be positioned to seek national heritage area designation.
  • Five Flexi Grant Workshops.  These workshops on community development through heritage tourism will be held in five distressed counties during the first week in June.
  • Rural and Agri-tourism Conference to be held June of 2003.

All of the above helped us in the goal to develop a permanent entity to house the state’s heritage tourism program. After examining several possibilities, it was determined by the Steering Committee that the West Virginia Development Office, more specifically its Main Street Program, made the most sense for this program because it can:

  • Connect its current economic development programs, grants and expertise to this endeavor.
  • Utilize its extremely successful Main Street Program to provide leadership, community contacts and methodology to enhance the program growth
  • Link more effectively with other state agencies especially Tourism, Culture and History including the State Historic Preservation Office, Agriculture, Education, Scenic Byway program State Parks, and many others
  • Work with others on legislation that would assist communities and counties in their heritage tourism efforts.
  • Establish a line item for heritage tourism in the budget process that would, at least in part, provide for an ongoing effort and program sustainability.

 The Steering Committee developed work plans and strategies that would lead to a smooth transition to the Development Office. Unfortunately because of extreme economic conditions impacting the state, it was determined that this was not the time to fund a new state initiative with so many agencies facing serious cutbacks.  However, the Development Office remains committed to the concept and hopes to eventually fund the program. 

 The Steering Committee regrouped and made a series of decisions over the last five months in order not to just maintain the state’s heritage tourism program but expand its efforts.  The most important decisions were:

  • West Virginia Main Street Office working with the Alliance would provide the leadership for the development of the program with Main Street assuming oversight.
  • The Potomac Heritage Partnership, a regional organization whose organizational focus and expertise is heritage tourism and heritage education, was retained to develop and manage the program.
  • The recognition that state funding in the form of a line item would probably not be available until Fiscal Year 2005, therefore, funding was needed from multiple sources to cover a 24-month time period from July 1, 2003 through June 30, 2005.
  • The establishment of a mission statement, core values and program areas in order to focus their heritage tourism efforts and adopt a work plan

 Definitions

We operate under certain definitions that provide clearer understanding of terms and phrases.

 Via grassroots’ research, heritage tourism includes the following:

  • Historic places such as house museums, battlefields, historic districts and certain events.
  • Architectural resources via architectural landmarks, historic districts or vernacular structures.
  • Natural places including rural landscapes and natural landmarks
  • Traditions of our region, which includes oral history, certain industries, music, foods, folklore and heritage, related events.
  • Appropriate recreational venues such as land and water trails.

 

We consider rural heritage tourism as a subset of heritage tourism.

 

 “Rural Heritage Tourism is defined by the countryside in which tourism businesses or activities are found.  In the broadest sense the villages, landscape, wildlife, community and cultural life, built and natural heritage are all important assets which serves to attract visitors—and visitors revenue to the countryside.”

 

“Agri-tourism is a subset of a larger industry called rural tourism that includes farm stays, off-site farmer markets, non-profit agricultural tours and other hospitality businesses that attract visitors to the countryside. Agricultural Tourism includes a set of economic and social activities that occur and link travel with products, services and experiences of agriculture.”

 

Program Mission:

Utilize West Virginia’s historic and natural resources to establish sustainable heritage tourism programs for the state, multi-county efforts and communities with the dual purposes of   stimulating economic opportunities for communities and businesses and the preservation and conservation of these resources.

 

Core Values

  1. Provide authentic and entertaining heritage tourism product that will attract visitors.
  2. Retain a preservation/conservation ethic in order to maintain, protect and celebrate the resources that make for a successful heritage tourism program.
  3. Assist the state, communities and counties in incorporating heritage tourism as part of their economic development strategies.
  4. Encourage partnerships and regional cooperation to provide a stronger product.
  5. Establish, implement and monitor measurements of success for heritage tourism which include indicators of economic stimulus, organizational growth and leadership development.
  6. Incorporate strategies that provide the best opportunities for sustainable heritage tourism programs.
  7. Seek to partner with existing organizations or agencies that are already offering programs that will meet heritage tourism needs.
  8. Work with others to utilize heritage resources as a teaching platform in West Virginia schools and other institutions.

 


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