Ohio Humanities Awarded NEH Grant for Tourism Website

Our Ohio Humanities SeeOhioFirst.org website is about to expand thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The award of $100,000 from the NEH Division of Public Programs will be used to redesign the Ohio Humanities’ heritage tourism website, adding interpretive content supported by a custom-designed web infrastructure.

The project will engage scholars, community stakeholders, and technicians to present stories of Ohio’s heritage and culture. img-barnIn making the award, the National Endowment commended the project for showcasing the humanities to stimulate the educational potential of travel. SeeOhioFirst.org was first launched in 2012 as a repository for The New Ohio Guide, a series of driving tours narrated by humanities professionals.  

Created under a grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation, The New Ohio Guide has served as a template for additional tours of cultural heritage sites. >>> Click Here to Learn More!

Creative Ohio 2015 – Register Today!

2015 Creative Ohio_BannerTom Borrup, Creative Community Builders, joins Creative Ohio 2015 as the Keynote speaker.  Register today to hear this visionary leader and learn how Ohio communities can be transformed with creative thinking and thoughtful planning.  Register at Creative Ohio 2015.

Tom Borrup is a leader and innovator in creative community building and creative placemaking – leveraging cultural and other assets to advance economic, social, civic, and physical regeneration of place-based communities. He consults with cities, foundations, and nonprofits across the U.S. to integrate arts, economic development, urban planning and design, civic engagement, and animation of public space.

His 2006 book, The Creative Community Builders’ Handbook, remains the leading text in the field. It profiles communities that have transformed their economic, social, and physical infrastructures through the arts and humanities. As Executive Director of Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis from 1980 until 2002, Tom helped transform a diverse urban neighborhood while building a nationally recognized multidisciplinary, cross-cultural organization. He has served as a member of many nonprofit boards and funding panels for public and private agencies, and was a trustee of the Jerome Foundation in Saint Paul from 1994 to 2003. With the National Endowment for the Arts, Tom served on a variety of funding and policy panels over 25 years in the media arts, visual arts, presenting, design, and advancement program categories.

Tom holds an M.A. in Communications and Public Policy from Goddard College and was a 2001-2002 Fellow in the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami School of Architecture. Currently, he is completing a Ph.D. on Leadership and Change at Antioch University researching the role of social and organizational networks in the planning and management of cultural districts.  He teaches Creative Placemaking for Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture’s Urban and Regional Planning Graduate Program.

Don’t miss this chance — Register today!   Creative Ohio 2015

Ohio Site In Line for Top Ten List

USA Today is conducting a reader poll to determine the best birding sites in the country. The nominations is a list of prime locations sure to make any life-lister’s heart beat faster just thinking about all the birds one might see: Big Bend, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the Platte River, Point Reyes National Seashore, Magee Marsh.

Magee Marsh. In Ohio.

I’ve been to Magee, several times. In the Spring to see warblers migrating north; in Autumn to watch trumpeter swans fuel up for their journey south. And just this past September, to see pairs of Sand Hill Cranes resting in shallow water before undertaking another leg of the journey to winter roosts.

WarblerWhy should we care if Magee Marsh makes the USA Today list of the top ten birding sites? Because birding is big business in Ohio. By the latest estimates, avitourists spent a whopping $30,000,000 in the Magee Marsh region during the April-May warbler migration. Birders support jobs in hotels, gas stations, restaurants, and countless other retail outlets. Some of that revenue flows back to preserve historic sites. Located on the northern edge of the Great Black Swamp, the region around Magee Marsh is defined by water and settlement stories. The residents know their history and cherish it.

My journeys up to Magee Marsh are among the best trips I take each year, because the folks around Magee Marsh get it – I’m there to see birds, spend money, and support the place that shelters all those little warblers and big cranes.

Join me in making sure Magee Marsh is recognized as a great place – to bird, to explore Ohio’s heritage. You can vote for Magee Marsh on the USA Today website every day until November 10. Just follow this link — http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-birdwatching/magee-marsh-ohio/



The Dan Emmett House arson attack: Can something good come from this?

The Dan Emmett House (here in its original location) was built by Dan's father, Abraham, who moved to Mt. Vernon, Ohio from Virginia. PHOTO COURTESY OF KNOX COUNTY CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU

The Dan Emmett House (here in its original location) was built by Dan’s father, Abraham, who moved to Mt. Vernon, Ohio from Virginia. PHOTO COURTESY OF KNOX COUNTY CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU

As a resident of Mt. Vernon, I was shocked to learn about the June 16th fire at the Dan Emmett House, one of Mt. Vernon’s most important, if modest, historic properties. Every August the town celebrates the legacy of Dan Emmett with its annual arts and music festival which takes over the town center with lots of music, festivities and family fun. So Dan Emmett is hardly an unknown name! Like many people, I’ve been asking myself, How did this happen?

The Dan Emmett House following the June 16th, 2014 arson attack. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR.

The Dan Emmett House following the June 16th, 2014 arson attack. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR.

More than any other piece of American music, Dan Emmett’s Dixie shows how complex, challenging and yet historically rich was the Civil War era. Emmett’s I Wish I Was in Dixie forces us to consider many complex topics—the genre of blackface minstrelsy, the meaning of slavery in the popular American imagination, Ohio as a crossroads of North and South, copyright and authorship in the 19th century music industry—all wonderfully encapsulated by the title of Howard and Judith Sacks’ scholarly study about the song’s origins, Way up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the Confederate Anthem.

The story of Emmett’s Dixie mirrors the history of Mt. Vernon, where Emmett was born and where he is believed to have drawn the inspiration for the song. Mt. Vernon has its own mixed heritage of early settlement from northern and southern states, and this history provides the perfect context for understanding Emmett’s famous song and its complicated legacy.

Panorama of the Dan Emmett House and the future Ariel Foundation Park visitor Center. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR.

Panorama of the Dan Emmett House and the future Ariel Foundation Park visitor Center. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR.

The job of interpreting this history just became more difficult, following the June arson attack. The Knox County Historical Society owns the building and used it to present copies of historic Emmett memorabilia and—luckily—only one historic artifact. The Historical Society was taking advantage of the location of the house nearby the new Erie to Ohio bike path and entrance to the Ariel Foundation Park to welcome visitors with scheduled tours. Following the fire, the Historical Society is planning next steps to rescue the building. Donations may be directed to the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon and Knox County, mvkcfoundation.org.

The Dan Emmett House fire offers a chance to reflect on the meaning of community history and the material—such as historic properties and artifacts—that turns history into a living heritage. So here’s the question that this issue brings up for me, and a possible solution.

What’s worse: if the criminals who vandalized the historic home were aware it was the birthplace of the community’s most notable historic resident or, if they set fire to the structure WITHOUT knowing its significance? Mt. Vernon is not alone in facing this kind of mindless vandalism of a historically significant building. In 2008, a group of teenagers broke into the Vermon home Robert Frost summered in for twenty years and caused $10,000 of damage, without knowing the house’s importance—or anything about the poet. Their punishment? A class on Frost’s poetry. Arson is a serious public safety issue and it will take much more than $10,000 to restore the Dan Emmett House now. I hope the authorities find who’s responsible and that the punishment fits the crime. The sentence should including hundreds of hours of community service to care for—and learn about!—local heritage properties.

For information on Emmett’s I Wish I Was in Dixie and the question of its authorship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie_(song)

For Dan Emmett and local history: http://www.danemmettfestival.org/index.php/events/dan-emmett-house-tours

On the arson attack: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/06/16/Knox-Dan-Emmett-House-Dixie-fire-arson-probe.html

On Dixie’s continuing controversy: http://www.localmemphis.com/story/d/story/home-of-dixie-composer-burns-in-possible-arson/19861/Od92BBQOakmPLny9EIgMYA

Food Conference

30-Mile Meal-Food InstituteThe Real Food Real Local Institute just sent a notice for its 3rd annual conference which coming up on June 11-13. This year’s event includes workshops, panel discussions, and a keynote by Anthony Flaccavento, founded of SCALE, Inc. Tours, meals, and receptions all highlight local flavors and several workshops should be of interest to heritage tourism planners. Registration is available at http://realfoodreallocalinstitute.org/3rd-annual-real-food-real-local-conference/


Building Heritage Trails

NTHPTom Johnson in Somerset shared a link to PreservationNation, a blog from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Seven Steps to Plan a Heritage Trail” is a quick slide show introducing the concept. Briefly, it outlines important components like setting goals for the heritage trail experience and identifying compelling stories along the route. Check it out here:

Thinking about creating a heritage trail in your region?  You can find detailed guidance here: http://www.leics.gov.uk/an_introductory_guide_to_heritage_trails.doc.  “A Short Guide to Heritage Trails,” by Keith Small, provides insight into maximizing the benefits for community residents and visitors alike, offering suggestions on types of trails, choosing trail features, and risk assessments. It may be a “short guide,” but it’s also a thorough introduction to planning a heritage trail.

Another link I like is http://www.heritage.tas.gov.au/media/pdf/trails.pdf. Designed for classroom use, this little lesson plan has the added benefit of getting kids involved with community history and heritage.Canalway-suspension-bridge-over-Cleveland-intersection-2--199x300

Heritage trails can be formatted for walking or driving, and include active or passive experiences for travelers. Some span a few city clocks, others traverse vast distances. Whatever geography your trail plans to cover, a heritage trail is a great way to connect people to the places you cherish.

New US Capitol tour Combines Ohio and Social Media

For those traveling to Washington DC, a new tour of the Capitol Building is being offered by Speaker John Boehner.  According to the Journal News, the Speaker’s staff will conduct tours that highlight features of special interest to Ohioans, such as statuary memorializing famous Ohioans and the committee room where Speaker Boehner spent many years advocating for Ohio farmers.

The tours have a unique twist:  Each begins in the Speaker’s Longworth Building office where guests receive a card with hints for snapping “selfies” during their visit.   Guests are encouraged to share their Capitol self-portraits via several Twitter sites, such as @SpeakerBoehner, #SelfieGuided Tour, or #OH08.

To read more, go to http://www.journal-news.com/news/news/speaker-launches-selfie-guided-tour/nfQb9/.

Ohio Earthworks Up For Sale

Jarrod Burks, President of the Heartland Earthworks Conservancy, wrote to alert us that a major earthwork site is threatened: the Junction Group in Ross County. A collection of nine small-to-medium sized enclosures, the site was mapped by Squier and Davis in the 1840s, the Junction Group includes Ohio’s only known quatrefoil, which was located during a magnetic survey in 2005.


The Junction Group is scheduled to be sold at auction on March 18th.

The site covers about 20-25 acres but is part of an 89-acre field. Located on the southwest edge of Chillicothe, the site has road frontage plus nearby city water and sewage, thus making it attractive for real estate development and providing threat to the earthworks.

Junc Group Mag Survey


The Heartland Earthworks Conservancy (HEC) is part of a consortium working to save the Junction Group and preserve its archaeological significance. To learn more about the Junction Group and how you can help, visit the HEC website:  www.earthworksconservancy.org/what-is-the-junction





Helping Travelers Plan

9-29-13235_edited-1I don’t need much when I travel – usually just a destination and a loose plan. Lately, water and birds figure in our travel plans. I’d heard that spectacular birding opportunities can be found on the western shores of Lake Erie, so was the destination.

Like most travelers today, I went to the internet to create the loose plan. With a few clicks, I ended up on one of the best travel sites I’ve ever visited – run by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. In addition to understanding birds, BSBO understands birders and the impact this niche group has on the local economy.

What’s so great about BSBO’s website? Follow along at www.bsbo.org/birding.

This is an attractive site built on a simple platform. BSBO posts fresh content on a regular basis. (We visited the area September 27-30, and since then, the site has posted an advisory that the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is closed due to the federal shut-down.) A pretty picture grabbed my attention; the sidebars left and right drew me deeper into the site to find the information we needed for a weekend stay.

The left sidebar is a list of pages for birding – information about wildlife refuges with detailed maps, an article about what birds show up during which months, a graph to illustrate peak autumn warbler migration, a northwest Ohio bird checklist. More crisp photographs illustrated each page.

This is the minimum I expect from any travel site – information about the destination, what we could expect to see, when might be the best time to visit. It’s the right sidebar that most impresses me. Below a list of sponsors and hours of operation, I found links to pages for the Black Swamp Birds and Business Alliance (BSBBA).


Magee Marsh/Ottawa National Wildlife Area

So to plan our trip, the BSBO site led me here –







Bollins Birds & Beds

here –






Jack’s Superette

and here –The BSBBA page includes a pdf of business cards for visitors to print and leave at the various establishments we visited. Intrigued, I did just that – and was warmly greeted as a welcome guest each time I included one of those little cards along with payment for services and food.

There are several Civic Tourism lessons here. But my point today is that heritage destinations need to think about service before a tourist packs the car. And the place to begin is where most tourists start their planning – on the web. My experience with www.bsbo.org/birding is a great example. Virtually effortless planning made for an effortless trip. Instead of using up precious birding time to find travel amenities, the BSBO site provided all the information I needed before we left home.

Certainly, our websites need to promote our attractions. But we should keep in mind what travelers need, too. Identifying places to stay, eat, and shop increases the likelihood that travelers will visit your location – and stick around long enough to support the businesses that support your heritage destination.

What’s on your website?