National Heritage Areas

Images from Erie Canal, Yuma, and Hudson Valley NHAs


Kip Hagen and Natalie gelb Solfanelli
Kip Hagen; Natalie Gelb Solfanelli, Dominic Keating of the Bi-County Rail Authority and the late Alan Sweeney, Chairman of the LHVA Board

train in lackawanna valley

Scranton Riverwalk groundbreaking

In early 2008, Natalie Gelb Solfanelli, Executive Director of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority, and Kip Hagen, Superintendent of Steamtown National Historical Park, participated in an interview with Eleanor Mahoney and Suzanne Copping, National Heritage Area program staff.

The discussion centered on the partnership between the Heritage Area and the National Park, highlighting the mutually beneficial aspects of their dynamic relationship.

How did the connection between Steamtowm National Historical Park and Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority (management entity for the Lackawanna Heritage Valley National Heritage Area) happen? Did they come to you? Did you go to them?

Kip Hagen: John Cosgrove (former LHVA Executive Director) started this monthly roundtable meeting and as Natalie became the new executive director she continued on with it, even expanded it to more participants to attend on a monthly basis. And I think the key in a gateway working relationship is the communication we have. We talk at least monthly, at the very minimum. Quite a few months it is weekly and if we are planning a special program or event, Natalie or her staff are in touch with me or my staff on a regular basis. We have meetings in and out of this park with staff from Natalie's side bringing community leaders to the park to discuss particular events. To give you an example, is the Heritage Explorer train. Natalie was instrumental in starting that when she became the new executive director. Of the communities that we were working with [before Natalie came on board], a couple stayed on and others kind of dropped off. We didn't get enough ridership to make it worthwhile. But thanks to Natalie and her staff she rejuvenated that program and we had a very successful run this past year. We are planning right now with Natalie's staff and the community to expand that program this season.

Natalie Gelb Solfanelli: I think the Roundtable is a best practice. We have a great collaborative attitude. It's almost a catchy thing - I don't think everybody even realizes that until they get pulled into this group. It's almost by osmosis that they have to be collaborative. We view each other as partners, and as sort of a family so that if one entity is having particular challenges and problems we rally around and find ways to help each other.
In terms of the Heritage Explorer train, that was a case where the ridership had diminished. It was a program that had been tried several years ago. We just made a decision this past year that LHVA would adopt that to accomplish our Heritage Explorer goal under our management plan and we would help Steamtown (NHP) at the same time because we would underwrite the cost of the train that they had been running and had to cancel a couple times. But also to help accomplish our management plan in terms of taking our citizens to the various communities and allowing those communities to display their ethnic heritage and what's special about them. So we started with Carbondale and we decided rather than just a trip for train buffs, to make it a family day. We actually invited all of our Ambassador alumni to come for free, and it was a sold out train. Unfortunately, we had to turn people away. It was a wonderful opportunity, I think, for both of us to be able to continue and to revitalize a program that was sort of dying out. And also for us to set it as a model for the rest of our heritage area. This year we have two more communities participating and engaging their Municipal officials and the people involved in their communities to showcase their resources as well, using last year's as a model. So it's been a wonderful, wonderful partnership.

How has the relationship with LHVA strengthened the National Historical Park's position within the community?

Kip Hagen: I really looked to the working relationship we had with the LHVA in that it opened the doors to much broader opportunities to leverage resources that we have with resources that the LHVA has at their disposal, and through other partnerships they have both with the state of Pennsylvania, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and other communities to help us develop programs and participate and to tell our story and link - we kind of connect the dots, you know, of the cultural heritage sites in this region all within the LHVA border and LHVA is very instrumental in accomplishing that.

How do you see your relationship changing as the heritage area reaches its sunset?

Natalie Gelb Solfanelli: We don't think about sunsets! (laughter) Seriously, we do think about it, but we think about it in a very positive way. That one way or the other we are going to find a way to continue. Because we can't imagine that the value that we've brought to the area and the community in terms of leveraging the money and everything else will ever be allowed to disappear. Obviously, if we sunset and we're not here, then what? Then a lot of these things are going to die.

Kip Hagen: That's the thing. I'll be honest with you, I really haven't hit home that this has a sunset. But we do stop and think about it. To do what we're doing now, in concert with Natalie and her staff, if they weren't there, to keep doing this, I'd have to have staff, okay? And I don't think I could justify that to pick up the ball and run with what Natalie has been doing working with all these communities within the heritage boundaries. It just wouldn't fly, you know, asking for funding to do that for our park. For one thing they would probably say that isn't really your role, your role is to tell the story of steam railroading and to take care of the park. But a lot of these programs that we mentioned and highlighted would probably just evaporate because there is no way that I could do them.

Natalie Gelb Solfanelli: So much would go away that it is beyond my imagination that somehow or someway we won't be reauthorized. And by the way, what Kip says adds strength to our argument for re-authorization.

What advice would you offer to National Park superintendents?

Kip Hagen: I think the key is communication in all of this, understanding each other's management plans, so that you are on board and running in the same direction, and then working together to leverage the resources we have available for the common good. And the end result from where I sit, for our park, is increased visitation which increases revenue at the gate (our entrance fee and our interpretative fee to ride the train) and that's another benefit we get. LHVA has created a draw for the area. They are part of the awakening [of the area].

What advice would you offer to other National Heritage Area directors?

Natalie Gelb Solfanelli: I think it's real simple. I think you just get together, you talk and you share. I'm a big brainstorming advocate. You sit down and you share your projects, especially if you don't have a previous relationship or if it's been dwindling. Look for ways that you can partner. Say "how does it make sense for us to work together?" What are the synergies and some of the out-of-the box possibilities that we can do together? It's really communication. I think [it's] being willing to think big and outside the box.

    Listen to advice from Kip Hagen on the benefits of Heritage Area National Park collaboration


    Natalie Gelb Solfanelli on how to get the most out of partnerships


    Kip Hagen on the importance of communication