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March 27, 2023

3/6/2023 9:44:00 AM
Heritage Area still in the works; group continues efforts on healthy economy

Anybody who has taken a Marketing 101 course has heard the saying,  customers don’t just stumble into destinations, they are lured.  When energy, consistency and smarts go into the activity of doing the luring, the better the outcome will be.

This was the theme of the annual conference for the North Woods & Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area group.  The gathering was organized through the NWW, bringing together Minnesota and Wisconsin experts to share resources  to enhance economic opportunity, in the St Croix watershed,  based on heritage and recreation. 
The NWW (see map) is not yet on the national list of  designated Heritage Areas but those involved continue to pursue the mission bolstered by individual and corporate support.  

The national Heritage Area Act itself got some clarity in one of the last actions of the 2022 Congress, according to Marty Harding, who recently handed over her NWW Board Chair title.  Harding has been working with the Heritage Area establishment effort for five years.  She was replaced with two Co-Chairs Melanie Kleiss and Jason Laumann.

The new Congressional language may help push the St. Croix territory over the top into Heritage Area designation.

Harding continued, explaining some people hold incorrect beliefs that a Heritage Area impacts private property rights, and local land regulations— or that the organization would get embroiled in local issues. In addition to stabilizing funding and making rules clearer, the 2022 language introduced seven new Heritage Areas.  There are now 61 in 35 states.  Legislative chair for NorthWoods and Waters Gayle Prest stated, “In 2023 we will continue to garner support from interested stakeholders and hold further conversations with our area U.S. Senators and Representatives in order to get our bill for our National Heritage Area introduced and passed in Congress.”

(Rep. Pete Stauber, in Congress for Chisago County, in the 8th Congressional District, has not been a supporter.  The Heritage Area 2022 version passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate.)

Attending the recent Internet conference were St. Croix area museums, cultural outlets, outfitters, tourism boosters and industry and businesses community members. They shared successes and ideas in a virtual format, or as one participant stated, “We work together as if we were a Heritage Area.”
Conference attendees were reminded Travel Wisconsin has funding for “JEM” grants which help with new and existing events, focusing on off-season time periods and that require three municipalities to be involved.
See  industry.travelwisconsin.com.

Explore Minnesota was also represented at the Internet event. Anyone with a business reliant on the tourism dollar can find resources at mn.gov and search Explore MN.

St. Croix Regional Tourism Alliance spokesperson Rosemary Mansfield said it is important that the Heritage Area group is working as a collective. Over the years the Alliance has learned people tend to move amongst several communities when they visit  the St. Croix corridor. She says, Visitor Guides are still a preferred mode of reference. The group learned in surveys this is  because people can see the whole area laid out, read small stories/histories and hold the print materials in their hand.

There’s also been good news recently in the form of a Fred C and Katherine B Andersen Foundation grant, sufficient to fund an Executive Director position for a Heritage Area.  The search is currently underway.  If you are interested in being considered and feel you have talent and skill to help continue to work on the designation effort, and help connect the watershed region to enhance and preserve historic, cultural and natural resources— contact North Woods and Waters.

Harding says the announcement of the grant leaves the group  “...grateful beyond words...we know they (the foundation) consider many requests each year and we are honored they chose us for this gift.”

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