Eastern Kansas and western Missouri’s claim as the birthplace of the Civil War is expected to receive a boost.
The board for the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area today will finalize a key document that will allow a 41-county region along the Kansas-Missouri border to apply for up to $10 million in federal funding over the next 15 years.
The potential federal funding comes none too soon, as area historians and tourism leaders already are planning for how the region can capitalize on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which will be marked in 2011.
“That anniversary and the national publicity it will generate will be huge,” said Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and one of the founding organizers of the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. “And we should be well-positioned to attract a lot of that publicity.”
The board will meet at 2 p.m. today at the Kansas City Central Library in Kansas City, Mo., to turn over its management plan to the National Park Service for approval. The plan comes after more than a year’s worth of discussion on how to best tell the story of the conflicts that raged in the region prior to the Civil War.
The plan says the area should present itself as the region where the Civil War grew from a spark to a flame.
“The 41 counties along the Kansas-Missouri border were the epicenter of events that led to the Civil War and the continuing struggle for freedom that has played out around the world since then,” Deanell Reece Tacha — a Lawrence resident, U.S. appellate court judge and chairwoman of the heritage area board — wrote in the plan.
Billings said the group hopes to have the management plan approved by the National Park Service by this fall. Congress already has approved creation of the heritage area, but a management plan is required before the area can start applying for funding.
The plan envisions the heritage area will need a budget of $400,000 to $600,000 per year to run day-to-day operations, conduct marketing activities, organize events and develop educational attractions. The group will undertake private fundraising, but Billings said she believes the organization will need to rely on a fair amount of federal funding.
A good amount of the funding could flow through Lawrence. The management plan recommends that Lawrence serve as the “home office” for the staff of the heritage area. The city is working to secure office space for the heritage area in the former Carnegie Library Building at Ninth and Vermont streets.
The bigger benefit to Lawrence may come from tourists who are drawn to the area by the national attention the heritage area designation is expected to generate.
Billings, though, said local organizations soon will need to begin working on what specific attractions and stories they want to promote to future visitors. Billings said she expects the new board for the Watkins Community Museum of History in downtown Lawrence to play a major role in that effort for Lawrence.
“I feel like they are really going to get focused on this effort,” Billings said. “I really have high hopes for them to be a destination.”