Cross-posted from the Heritage Initiative, a St. Croix 360 partner.
About seventy-five people came together at Wild Mountain ski area’s chalet in Taylors Falls, Minn. on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the idea of designating the St. Croix River region a National Heritage Area. There were presentations from project leaders about the Heritage Initiative, but the best parts of the day came from all around the room.
At every opportunity for discussion, conversations seemed to explode with positive visions and collaborative thinking, talking about a future for our region that keeps what makes it a great place to live, work, and play, and builds the framework to make it even more prosperous, close-knit, and beautiful.
Young actors illustrate heritage, represent the future
The clear highlight of the day was the creative theatrics from a group of young actors from Festival Theater in St. Croix Falls. When it was time to announce the four themes which had been crafted to describe the region’s special qualities, these talented kids acted out funny, thoughtful vignettes to illustrate what such stories looked like.
It was as if we had all traveled through time to the future day when our region is celebrated as the fascinating landscape we know it is.
The actors illustrated stories of cultural traditions like the Danish Aebleskiver sold at the West Denmark Lutheran church in Luck, Wis. the first week of May every year; a hike up the ancient glacial ridge running through St. Croix Falls; the thrill of fishing for muskellunge while escaping city life at the cabin; and a pine cone which can become lumber, housing, or a sentinel on the bluffs.
Building a framework for the future
The Regional Gatherings — Tuesday’s meeting was the first of four, and you can still sign up to attend one of the others, but need to do so quickly — are all about the future of the region. They build off the stories shared at the 10 Heritage Discovery Workshops earlier this year, but look forward while those meetings were largely about exploring our region’s past.
From the remarkable 414 stories shared at the workshops, the Heritage Initiative’s grassroots task force spent the summer distilling the four major themes.
After the theatrical debut on Tuesday, everyone got out of their chairs and went around to four stations, where thoughtful and frank conversations were held about each theme: what does it mean to you?
During these conversations, I heard wonderful things people love about our area, hopes for the future, ideas for sharing what we have with the rest of the country (and the world), and with our children and grandchildren.
Your answers and ideas needed
If you want to help your community and the larger region build off its existing strengths, the Heritage Initiative is for you.
As Heritage Initiative Task Force chair Marty Harding of St. Croix Falls said, a National Heritage Area is more than a place on the map — it’s also a strategy to achieve certain goals: perhaps to promote tourism, facilitate education, encourage arts collaboration.
Marty also reminded us that, at the end of the Feasibility Study next spring, it might be clear that the community’s goals can be achieved without a Congressionally-designated National Heritage Area. If so, designation will not be pursued.
But to answer that question and to develop the right strategies takes smart people passionate about the region, willing to answer big questions, and follow up with action.
What does it mean to call somewhere home? Is it the food you eat? The places you play? The ground you walk on, the trees you walk beneath? How about the festivals which mark each season? Or the stories of yesteryear you learned about growing up?
The answer is yes. And the answer is different for every person. Come to one of the remaining three Regional Gatherings between now and November 15 to share your answer.
Meeting dates and locations
- November 3, 9 a.m. – noon
YMCA Camp St. Croix, Weyerhaeuser Lodge, Hudson, WI
- November 8, 4 – 7 p.m.
School District of Shell Lake, Shell Lake, WI
- November 15, 4 – 7 p.m.
Grand Casino Hinckley Convention Center, Hinckley, MN