North Country group eyes heritage development pilot project

Residents of New Hampshire’s North Country want to show the rest of the nation that it is possible to build economic security through regional assets, and, thanks to combined efforts from a variety of sources, they may get their chance.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., is considering the North Country as a site for its Rural Heritage Development Initiative Pilot Project. The initiative is designed to develop a model for heritage-based economic development in rural areas.

“We’re hoping to work in selective regions to demonstrate the value of heritage-based rural development,” said Jim Lindberg, rural heritage coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We’ve seen so many changes in our rural communities around the country. So many are going through great transitions, some are sprawling while others are struggling, either way it’s having a great impact on the regions.”

The trust received more than 500 inquiries about the project. In the end, 11 regions took on the rigorous application process, according to Lindberg.

The North Country is one of four regions in the nation that are still being considered for the pilot. Southwest Pennsylvania, and rural areas of Arkansas and Kentucky are the other three.

“We were very impressed with the strong application we received from New Hampshire, “ Lindberg said.

The North Country Council was lead in the application process, which also included the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development and the New Hampshire Main Street Center.

“If this takes off and we are chosen for the pilot project we could be looked at as an example of how to build off of your regional assets – the things that already exists in your region, rather than having to sit back and wait for an IBM to move into your backyard,” said Christine Walker, planning coordinator for the North Country Council, a regional planning commission and economic development district for 52 communities from Madison to Plymouth and from Haverhill north.

The two chosen regions will receive $360,000 in technical assistance from The National Trust over three years. The chosen regions will augment the support from the National Trust with $180,000 of their own money; money that Walker said has already been secured thanks to 19 different sources throughout the North Country.

For Walker and other members of the North Country Council, bringing the Rural Heritage Development Initiative to New Hampshire will mean an opportunity to utilize the history and beauty of the northern region of the Granite State in a way that will add value to the North Country by promoting small business development and good paying jobs related to the tourism and service industries.

“We also want to work toward promoting tourism within the region,” Walker said. “We would like to see more people from this area taking advantage of what this region has to offer.”

Tourism potential

While the goal of the North Country is to expand the economic development of their region through embracing and promoting their rich heritage, the National Trust is looking to aid a region sometimes challenged by its rural character in becoming an economic success story for other similar regions to emulate.

“We’re looking to develop sustainable heritage-based tourism, sustainable agriculture that embraces a smaller scale and a creative economy based on arts and crafts, small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit,” Lindberg said, adding that while the grant for the pilot is being funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for three years, it is the contention of the National Trust that the initiative will continue to sustain itself into the future.

Members of the National Trust spent three days in August visiting the North Country as the final selection process got under way.

“Our plan was to give them an overview of the diversity of issues facing the North Country and to show them some things that have been achieved through local initiative,” Walker said.

Touting the region’s entrepreneurial spirit and the ability of its residents to work together toward a common goal, Walker and the others involved with the site visits talked up the region’s tourism potential and the success of the Main Street Project, an initiative started by the National Trust 15 years ago.

The North Country was the first region the National Trust visited. The winner will be decided upon only after the three other sites have been looked at. A decision as to whether or not New Hampshire’s North Country will indeed be one of the pilot sites is expected to be made sometime this month.

If New Hampshire is chosen, a subcommittee will be formed to work with the National Trust and oversee the initiative.

While members of the North Country Council and residents of the region are anxiously awaiting the decision, Walker said the entire process has only meant good things for the region.

“This has been really great for the region. It has had an umbrella effect,” Walker said. “This has been a phenomenal coordination effort. People everywhere have really pulled together on a local level to be part of this project. It’s just been great to see.”

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