National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Making music at the Ashville festival, Blue Ridge Parkway
Once Upon A Nation

Description: The NPS Interpretation and Education Program Business Plan sets a strategic direction for parks to leverage partnership relationships to increase NPS interpretation and education effectiveness and accountability. Over the past three years, Independence NHP and Valley Forge NHP (VAFO) developed a partnership with Historic Philadelphia, Inc.'s Once Upon A Nation program to offer an engaging, entertaining experience at both parks. Once Upon A Nation is an initiative of Historic Philadelphia, Inc. (HPI), a non-profit organization founded in 1994 by then-Mayor Edward G. Rendell. HPI oversees Once Upon A Nation, The Betsy Ross House, and Franklin Square, and works closely with Historic District stakeholders and the hospitality community from the entire Greater Philadelphia Region to help build Philadelphia's tourism industry into an economic growth engine. Through interpretation, interactive experiences, evening programming, Adventure Tours, and Franklin Square, Once Upon A Nation enhances the tourist experience in Philadelphia, educates the visitor and makes our nation's history relevant to today.

In March 2006, HPI and VAFO entered into a partnership to bring visitors from Philadelphia's Historic District to Valley Forge. The idea for the partnership with VAFO was based on the partnership Historic Philadelphia, Inc had begun with Independence NHP in 2005 and a long held desire by community, tourism and elected officials (most notably Governor Rendell) to link downtown Philadelphia and Valley Forge. In 2006, HPI and VAFO launched the Road to Valley Forge: Secrets & Spies heritage adventure tour, where visitors board a bus in Philadelphia and journey back in time to a top-secret mission led by an American spy. HPI and VAFO personnel staffed the tours and were full participants in script development.

Based on the positive response to the tour, HPI and VAFO expanded its efforts to include programming within Valley Forge NHP. In 2007, three Once Upon A Nation storytelling benches were added to the park, along with the launch of the Valley Forge After Hours tour and the enhanced Story of Valley Forge Trolley Tour. Expert storytellers informally interact with visitors in the landscape sharing 5 minute vignettes featuring the people, events and context of the Revolutionary period. Stories are shared and visitors are invited to sit at the Once Upon A Nation's signature benches. HPI staff lead the park's 90-minute Trolley tour three times a day, 7 days a week, selling out for nearly every tour. The benches provided visitors with five-minute short stories and anecdotes about the Revolution and the Valley Forge Encampment. Through this partnership, Valley Forge has been excited to have the experienced creative storytellers that complement the interpretive rangers of VAFO. Funding has been raised from a myriad of sources including foundations, local corporations and the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau. Approximately $75,000 per year is needed to sustain the program and over $600,000 has been raised. It is anticipated that Once Upon A Nation will continue at Valley Forge for at least another 3-4 years.

Geographic area covered: Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania

List of partners and relationships: Historic Philadelphia, Inc, Valley Forge NHP and Independence NHP

Accomplishments to date:

  • Training of Valley Forge National Historical Park staff at Historic Philadelphia, Inc.'s Benstitute which involves an intensive three-week training program on historic interpretation and tourism.
  • Installation of free storytelling benches in three locations within the park. Between June 16 and September 3, 2007 approximately 30,000 visitors experienced the inaugural Valley Forge storytelling benches.
  • Development and staffing by Once Upon A Nation of the Road to Valley Forge: Secrets and Spies tour that transports visitors from Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia to Valley Forge National Historical Park and back.
  • Development and staffing by Once Upon A Nation of Valley Forge After Hours tour that invites visitors to travel back in time to 1778 to spend an evening with members of the Continental Army, Martha Washington, and General George Washington. The tour sold out virtually every week during the summer.

Key success factors:

  • Role VAFO staff played in establishing a successful partnership by participating in the script creation and providing final approval. Valley Forge provided park office space and assistance to HPI as stipulated in a General Agreement.
  • The public relations and marketing opportunity for Once Upon A Nation to reach a new audience and add visibility for both partner organizations.
  • VAFO presented Once Upon A Nation with a captive audience for interactive and interpretive programming.
  • Commitment to historic accuracy.
  • VAFO and HPI engagement of new funding sources near Valley Forge that were not familiar with the project.


  • Scheduling and logistics presented a challenge for Once Upon A Nation since the organization's headquarters are located in Philadelphia.
  • Creating collaboration and having others interpret the story was new for many front line park staff. By the end of the summer many of the "turf issues" were dealt with in a positive manner through constant communication with the staff.
  • A grievance was filed by the park's union concerning the partnership because many interpreters feared they would lose their jobs.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  • There is a large audience at Valley Forge NHP that welcomes the addition of Once Upon A Nation.
  • The park staff ultimately developed a good rapport with HPI staff and a sense of collaboration replaced some initial anxiety.

What would you do differently next time:

  • Explore extended programming into the fall and add more storytelling benches.
  • Start planning at least one year in advance of program implementation.
  • Communicate more with staff to reinforce the message that partners are not here to take over their jobs and that programs such as Once Upon a Nation are value added.

For more information:

Name: Amy Needle
Affiliation: Historic Philadelphia, Inc, Once Upon a Nation
Phone/Fax: 215-629-5801 ext 205
Email/website: Once Upon a Nation

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

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

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Barb Pollarine Date posted: 5/1/08
Phone: 610-783-1032

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Storyteller interacts with visitors at the Once Upon A Nation's signature bench
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