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Community Agriculture Alliance: Cultural heritage tourism, preservation recognized

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For more information about the Northwest Colorado Heritage Tourism Program, visit its Web site, call project coordinator Nancy Kramer at 879-4370 or e-mail her at

Historic preservation — the art and science of preserving, conserving and protecting buildings, objects, landscapes and other artifacts of historic significance — more and more is being recognized by public officials as a contributing element to local and regional economies and economic development. The National Main Street Center, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, keeps extensive statistics about the economic impacts of its member communities, one of which is Steamboat Springs. For example, every dollar of support for Main Street programs generates more than $39 of new investment in downtown commercial districts. The city of Steamboat Springs understands that its contribution to the support of our local Mainstreet Steamboat Springs program is an investment, and it has paid dividends even through the recent economic downturn.

But the investment in historic preservation reaches wider and deeper than just downtown Steamboat Springs. Residents of Routt County have long intuited the value of our open spaces and agricultural heritage — our cultural landscape. Vision 2020, Vision 2030 and multiple community surveys in between identify these elements as priorities for preservation, conservation and future investment and as essential to defining our sense of community.

Now a U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Travel and Tourism research study completed this fall verifies that this collective intuition — these feelings — about what is good for our community is also good for our economy. The study found that "78 percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural and/or heritage activities while traveling … spend an average of $994 per trip … (and) contribute more than $192 billion annually to the U.S. economy."

It is the first national study to divide the travel market into segments, and it identifies those travelers "for whom culture and heritage drive their destination choices." They seek out and participate in food and wine festivals, farmers markets, gourmet food shopping and unique and fine dining experiences. They visit historic sites, art museums and galleries and state and national parks, attend art and craft fairs and professional dance performances, shop in museum stores and even explore community neighborhoods.

What does this have to do with historic preservation and agricultural heritage? Sixty-five percent "of these travelers say that they seek travel experiences where the 'destination, its buildings and surroundings have retained their historic character.'" The president and CEO of Heritage Travel, John Williams, sums up the study, saying, "This study of the habits of cultural and heritage travelers reconfirms the size of this lucrative market. It also shows that cultural and heritage travelers seek authentic destinations with historic character, as well as educational experiences in their travels."

This is why the "soft stuff" matters: historic character, sense of place, authentic Western town, agricultural heritage, open space. Behind the "soft stuff" is hard data demonstrating that our feelings about our community make good economic sense. Preserving our past — buildings, objects, landscapes and other artifacts of historic significance — is, in fact, investing in our future.

Fortuitously, The Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage Tourism Program, a collaborative initiative of four counties and 11 communities spearheaded by the Community Agricultural Alliance, was revived and re-energized in 2008. This effort seeks to diversify our predominant tourism industry by increasing our share of the lucrative cultural and heritage travelers market, which will directly benefit local economies throughout Northwest Colorado. This initiative deserves our attention, support and involvement, particularly as we seek ways to rebound from the current down economy and make choices about where to place our public and charitable investments. You will be hearing more about this program in the coming months.

Townsend H. Anderson is the executive director of Historic Routt County