Third in a four-part series about the proposed North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix National Heritage Area. Part One of this series introduced and defined what is meant by National Heritage Area status, and Part Two reported on the community engagement process used to complete a feasibility study.
The story of what became the Heritage Initiative Task Force pays tribute to one of Margaret Meade’s most famous quotes: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
By the time the diverse citizen task force was seated in January of 2010, several months had already been invested in preliminary conversation about whether or not National Heritage Area status would be a good idea for the St. Croix Valley.
In the summer of 2009, a small coalition of individuals representing community development, tourism, natural resources, and history had the opportunity to meet with the Regional Office of the National Park Service. Among them were Marty Harding of the St. Croix Valley Foundation, John Velin of the St. Croix River Association, Bill Neuman of the St. Croix Scenic Coalition and the St. Croix Scenic Byway. Also present were two people who had actually experienced working and living near a National Heritage Area, Chris Stein, Superintendent of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, and Julie Galonska, who is the Chief of Interpretation, Education, and Cultural Resource Management at the Riverway.
Clearly inspired, the St. Croix Valley Foundation (SCVF) decided to convene a large cross-section of regional stakeholders, primarily from the lower St. Croix River area, to learn about the National Heritage Area (NHA) program. When those present were asked if they thought it was a good idea to explore the NHA concept, the room was filled with interest – and skepticism.
“It was such a powerful proposition,” said John Velin. “Yet, it also had the feeling of an idea just too darned big to get a handle on what it would mean to our region to pursue designation. Honestly, I was among the early skeptics.”
Skepticism turned into a massive research project and, over the course of the next eight months, the task force – with technical assistance from Jean Schaeppi-Anderson of the National Park Service and SCVF staff assistance by Jill Shannon, then Director of Community Partnerships – began the work of understanding exactly what was required to become a National Heritage Area, what the benefits would be, and what challenges would be faced.
“We used conference calls with existing National Heritage Area staff and board members to learn about their journeys,” said Ann Moonen, a tour guide with Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia, MN. “It was a fascinating process, one that also made it clear that this would be a marathon not a sprint. After all, some Heritage Areas took about ten years to complete their feasibility studies and management plans.”
Some members of the task force visited NHA sites, like Silos & Smokestacks in Iowa and the Essex National Heritage Area in Massachusetts. As time went on, skepticism gave way to increased curiosity and a palpable sense of possibility. When it was understood that completing a feasibility study would also require actually selecting a physical boundary as a preliminary step in the process, the task force was galvanized with a sense of purpose.
“As we grappled with the fact that in a formal feasibility study we would be looking deeply at our regional stories of potential national significance, we knew that the logging story was just one excellent example of such a story,” said Marty Harding, who chairs the task force. “It was Sam Griffith (City Administrator, Sandstone, MN) who so eloquently reminded us that we would not be able to tell the story of the lumber barons, sawmills, and rising wealth of cities downriver without telling the story of the lumber camps, cutover, and the Hinckley Fire. The interdependence and interlocking stories of the watershed have been part of the entire human experience in the St. Croix Valley.
In August of 2010, the task force voted unanimously on two important motions: to proceed with a feasibility study and that the conceptual boundary under study would be the entire 8,000 square miles of St. Croix River watershed.
In the months to come, the task force provided leadership, deliberation, management, and implementation support ever since. Along the way, outside consultants were hired to provide invaluable assistance. Nancy Morgan of Point Heritage Development Consulting has overseen strategic direction to keep the feasibility study on course and meet the Department of Interior requirements. Until November 2013, Jill Shannon provided staff side leadership in managing the project within the community partnership framework of SCVF. Jonathan Moore of the National Park Service has provided a great deal of technical assistance in his role as the Riverway’s Partnerships & Volunteers Coordinator. Tom Borrup, Pete Musty, and their team at Creative Community Builders provided leadership in designing the Heritage Discovery Workshops and Regional Gatherings. Greg Seitz and Kay Lambert have provided invaluable consulting services in media, marketing, and branding leadership. Local artist Chelsea Kelly assisted with community engagement on behalf of SCVF. Late in 2013, a coordinating entity, Northwest Regional Planning Commission, was named to serve the Heritage Initiative effort and three additional members joined the team: Myron Schuster, Sheldon Johnson, and Jason Laumann.
Additional members of the Heritage Initiative Task Force not listed above include (past and present): Alyssa Auten for the Folsom House, Kathy Bartilson for the Wisconsin DNR, Jane Hetland Stevenson of the St. Croix Valley Foundation, DanetteOlsen for ArtReach St. Croix, Scott Peterson for Friends of the St. Croix Headwaters, Tangi Schaapveld for the Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Patricia Shifferd for the St. Croix River Association, and Margaret Smith for Freedom Park.
The Feasibility Study is available at www.stcroixheritage.org/feasibility-study or at local libraries around the region. The Heritage Initiative Task Force is interested in feedback from everyone, and has provided a form on the website. Comments and questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming next week: The final installation in this series that outlines “next steps” for the National Heritage Initiative effort.