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Partnership header Making music at the Ashville festival, Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative

Description: The multi-state Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative, Blue Ridge Parkway, spans North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia and is headquartered in North Carolina. Arts agencies in three states were awarded a $225,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for economic development and cultural preservation in the counties that border the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The NEA funds were granted to the North Carolina Arts Council, and in turn subgranted to the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association and the Virginia Humanities Council to administer project funds in those two states. The NEA grant was more than matched with additional funding, including the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and American Express.

Planning on the project began informally in 1997 when the Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway invited a group of people to study ways to protect shared resources and cultural traditions as well as beloved parkway sites while promoting the cultural, natural and historic resources of the southern Appalachians. Participants came from the mountain communities, non-profits, regional councils, and state, federal and tribal partners in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

HandMade in America, a non-profit organization committed to creating sustainable economic development for North Carolina craftspeople, became a key participant. The heritage trails concept originated from HandMade, which prior to the formation of the partnership, had produced a successful publication: The Crafts Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina.

The group set designation as a National Heritage Area as a major goal to protect regional resources and traditions, and proceeded to develop community projects that would demonstrate to residents that heritage tourism could meet their needs. The model of the Trails was compelling and well liked. The Initiative agreed on 3 new themes and conducted inventories of the area's cultural resources and assets within these themes. They surveyed art groups and cooperatives, asking what they would like to see included in the trails. It became evident that there were significant resources interwoven with the parkway and that people were concerned about the erosion of their distinctive culture and those places associated with it, public or private. Communities were eager for this type of project to succeed.

The result was the creation of the following heritage trials:

The Craft Heritage Trails winds through back roads and scenic byways in 21 mountain counties along the Blue Ridge Parkway and showcase artisan studios, undiscovered shops and galleries on 8 separate trails in 74 communities.

The Blue Ridge Music Trails provides visitors with the opportunity to meet local musicians, visit venues that showcase Blue Ridge Mountain folk music and traditional dance, and participate in many of the musical performances, venues, gatherings and festivals offered throughout the year within 44 Virginia and North Carolina counties and towns.

The Cherokee Heritage Trail consists of three major auto loops and highlights sites of ancient towns, important places in Cherokee myths and legends, and museums that display Cherokee artifacts. The Trail provides the opportunity for visitors to meet with Cherokee artists, who share their story-telling, music, arts, and crafts in over 15 North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia communities.

The Farms, Gardens and Countryside Trails of the Blue Ridge consists of seven auto loop trails that traverse 87 Western North Carolina communities rich with horticultural and agricultural heritage sites.

These trails link rural communities with one another, the Blue Ridge Parkway and other scenic highways and roads. With guidebooks complete, the group is now in the process of working on way-finding systems and a nomination to designate the region as a National Heritage Area.

Currently there are no interpretation stations or signs along the trails though graphic logos are developed and marketing workshops are occurring. The Blue Ridge Parkway has not traditionally signed community events or commercial activities. The challenge facing those involved in the Initiative is how to develop visual cues along the trails. The recently designed graphic logos will be used to identify sites along the trails, and also for way-finding signs along the routes.

Geographic area covered: The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile "scenic drive" corridor that connects Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks and is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and North Carolina. The heritage trails travel within 50 counties in 4 states including all 29 counties along the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Waynesboro, Virginia in the north to Chattanooga Tennessee, showcasing 150 distinct southern Appalachian communities.

List of partners and relationships: North Carolina Arts Council, Tennessee Arts Commission, Virginia Commission for the Arts, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, North Carolina Division of Travel and Tourism, North Carolina Department of Commerce, Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association, Tennessee Department of Tourism, Tennessee State Parks, the National Park Service, Handmade in America, and the Cherokee National Forest.

Accomplishments to date: Integration of educational programs with heritage tourism development and visitor experiences has been a surprising spin-off of the music trails. As a result of the positive word that spread about the project, the North Carolina Arts Council Folklife Program is now working with the School of Education at the University of North Carolina on a related program to use traditional music as a teaching tool. The North Carolina Curriculum, Music and Community Project uses the talents of local musicians and their music traditions to teach the state mandated curriculum.

The Cherokee Artist Directory, a first ever collection of its type among American Indian nations, is a remarkable resource of artists available to educate audiences in Cherokee traditions and history through authentic dance, music, storytelling, craft and ritual. The Directory is the imperative of the Cherokee tribe to communicate their cultural values firsthand and in authentic voices.

The resource inventories created for the project have a continuing value. The inventories prove that resources, like traditional music and Cherokee culture, remain alive and well in local communities and contribute greatly to the region's identity. Inventories bolstered fundraising efforts in all the partner states and were used to successfully support the designation of the Unicoi Turnpike as one of 16 National Millennium Trails, and the designation of the Cherokee Heritage Trails and Blue Ridge Music Trails as Millennium Legacy Trails.

Four published guidebooks, two by HandMade in America, and two by the North Carolina Arts Council have enjoyed brisk sales and rave reviews. HandMade's third edition Craft Heritage Trails; and new Farms, Gardens and Countryside Trails, were published in partnership with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service-NCSU and the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative with monies granted from State DOT TEA-21 funds. The Craft Heritage Trails guidebook has sold over 45,000 copies since it first came out in 1996.

The Blue Ridge Music Trails and The Cherokee Heritage Trails, were published in 2003 by the University of North Carolina Press in association with the North Carolina Arts Council and the Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative.

Economic impacts of the trails on the local economy haven't been fully measured. Returned visitor survey cards from the Craft Heritage Trails guidebook indicate that 96% of those that purchased the guidebook also purchased crafts. Roughly 11% of those visitors spent $500 or more, 62% spent between $200 and $400, and 22% spent less than $100. Each year, HandMade surveys all sites identified in the guidebook and estimates that on the average, personal incomes have increased 23% for artisans on the Crafts Heritage Trails since the guidebook was first published.

Key success factors:

  1. All the partners involved in the heritage trails project - local, tribal, state and federal agencies - shared a commitment to listen to the ideas, needs, and issues voiced by those whose heritage is being presented to the public.
  2. Each person on the trail committees brought different fundraising strengths, providing significant resources that could be tapped, as well as personal passion aligned with their own interests, i.e., respected musicians guided the music trails, Cherokee elders the Cherokee trail, etc.

Frustrations: The lack of state funds for heritage tourism specifically for trails and community driven projects. Money, which is dedicated to promoting heritage tourism around the state, often goes to promote larger tourism attractions such as the Biltmore House in Asheville or institutions like the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. Stewardship of 'place' is motivated through celebration of culture and tradition.
  2. In true and productive partnerships, you give more than you are asked.
  3. Agree on the problem, commit to the goal. Be flexible in how you get there.
  4. Exact a high standard of quality and don't relent.

What would you do differently next time: Cast a wider net. Be strategic about inviting all the politically appropriate players.

Suggested resource materials: North Carolina Arts Council, Cherokee Trail, Blue Ridge Music Trail, and HandMade in America

For more information:

Name: Dan Brown
Affiliation: Superintendent, Blue Ridge Parkway
Phone/Fax: 828-271-4779 ext, 202

Name: Laura Rotegard
Affiliation: Blue Ridge Parkway Management Assistant
Phone/Fax: 828-271-4779 ext. 201

Name: Becky Anderson
Affiliation: Director, HandMade in America
Phone/Fax: 828-252-0121

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising _X_; Capital Improvements __; Facility Management __; Trails _X_; Design __; Program Delivery _X_; Visitor Services _X_; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources _X_; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts _X_; Information Services _X_; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning _X_; Tourism _X_; Community Relations _X_;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Laura Rotegard Date posted: 9/17/03
Phone: 828-271-4779 ext. 201

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