Stories key to heritage area plan

Midwest site organizers offer advice for Freedom's Frontier

Destination management board members

Destination Management Inc. was formed as the day-to-day management entity for Freedom’s Frontier Heritage Area and the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. Here is a list of DMI board members representing the city of Lawrence, Douglas County, the Chamber of Commerce and the heritage area.

¢ Chairwoman Deanell Tacha, also chairwoman of the heritage area board. Tacha, a rural Lawrence resident, is a judge for the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver.

¢ Vice Chairman Charles Jones, county commissioner and director of the Kansas University Public Management Center.

¢ Secretary Dave Corliss, Lawrence city manager.

¢ Treasurer Joan Golden, Chamber of Commerce. She is vice president of US Bank in Lawrence.

¢ Member Craig Weinaug, county administrator.

¢ Member David Dunfield, heritage area. He is an architect with GLPM Architects in Lawrence.

Two more members have not yet been named. One is the Lawrence mayor’s appointee, and a Convention and Visitors board member also to be appointed by the mayor.

Tell the stories, and people will come.

That’s the advice leaders of two Midwest heritage areas have for the fledgling Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area as it takes shape in eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

“Keep the story at the forefront. Make sure folks get it that the Border (War) story is a national story,” said Carroll Van West, director of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.

In northeastern Iowa, finding stories to tell was no problem for the Silos and Smokestacks Heritage Area that’s headquartered in Waterloo, director Don Short said.

“Once you get out into the field – and that’s what it takes – you’ll never have enough staff to capture everything that’s out there,” Short said.

The Iowa heritage area tells the story of agriculture and its related industries. It comprises 37 counties. There are more than 90 sites that include dairy farms, museums and tractor plants. The Civil War heritage area covers all of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Both areas were designated in 1996.

There are 37 heritage areas in the country, with the first designated in 1984. Freedom’s Frontier is among them, after receiving approval from President Bush and Congress in 2006.

Freedom’s Frontier covers 41 counties in Kansas and Missouri, and its purpose is to tell the story of the pre-Civil War border wars between pro-slavery and abolitionist groups.

Area based in Lawrence

Steps were taken this fall that essentially make Lawrence the headquarters for the heritage area. A tourism management entity called Destination Management Inc. eventually will have a contract with Freedom’s Frontier to manage day-to-day business. Judy Billings, longtime director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, is the DMI director and, so far, its only employee. She also continues to lead the CVB. The CVB and DMI offices are at 947 N.H.

A DMI board has been formed and comprises representatives of the city of Lawrence, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Douglas County and the heritage area. The board’s chairwoman is Deanell Tacha, Lawrence, who is also chairwoman of the heritage area board.

The heritage area and DMI also will be working with a team of national professional consultants that will develop a plan that will outline how the heritage area can tell its stories through coordination among the 41 counties.

Many of the national heritage areas are focused on a geographical site such as mountains, a canal or a river. Freedom’s Frontier will be story-based, Billings said. There are specific sites that could benefit, such as Black Jack Battlefield near Baldwin City.

“We’ll see some more of that, but we’ll also begin to connect the stories,” Billings said.

Areas have critics

The growing number of heritage areas is drawing criticism from some corners. An October report by the Heritage Foundation noted concerns about heritage areas and private property rights and the increasing cost of the areas to the federal government, which provides some funds.

Billings, however, said Freedom’s Frontier gives property owners the option of participating with the area. As for the funding, there is a cap on how much can be budgeted for heritage areas.

“If there is some money to be had, we want our share of it,” she said. “Because there are public dollars to be had, you can leverage that into private dollars.”

That is what has happened in the Silos and Smokestacks area, Short said. For every federal dollar that has been received, it has been matched almost 5 to 1 with private dollars, he said.

“We’ve captured the attention of some of the larger agriculture organizations in the state, and federal dollars have allowed us to do that,” Short said.

Congress approved a budget cap at $10 million over 10 years for the Iowa heritage area. The 10-year period has expired with the area receiving about $6 million, Short said.

“That’s still enough money to leverage us to get a lot of projects done,” he said.