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Linda Kellett - Helen Martin, chairperson of the Mohawk Valley Region’s Path Through History workgroup, distributes information to Norm Bollen, chairman of the Fort Plain Museum Board of Directors, and St. Johnsville resident Tracy Montoni during the workgroup’s Feb. 6 meeting at the museum.

Linda Kellett - Helen Martin distributes information (left to right) to Little Falls residents Nan Ressue and Jayne Ritz and Gilbertsville resident Leigh Eckmair.

Linda Kellett - Participants from Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties were present at the meeting.


History workgroup identifies catalyst projects

Thursday, February 14, 2013 - Updated: 9:50 AM


C-S-E News Staff

FORT PLAIN — We need to bring masses of people here.

That, according to Lori Solomon, is the goal of the catalyst project under development for the Mohawk Valley Region as part of the governor’s Path Through History initiative.

A representative of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Solomon made her remark at the Fort Plain Museum where members of the regional workgroup convened last Wednesday to recap the Jan. 31 public meeting at the Arkell Museum and Canajoharie Library.

They also addressed potential catalyst projects, and they started taking planning to the next level.

During an early-meeting discussion about potential catalyst projects that focused on genealogy research, Solomon said, “I don’t know if this is ‘the’ catalyst project that will bring mass [tourists]... It could just enhance existing projects, but it’s really more of just a quick list: ‘This is how you do it.’ Maybe it’s eventually, ‘How do we connect to’”

She suggested that the topic of genealogy research should be a link on a regional website that lists sites, cemeteries, and available resources across the region, for example, so heritage tourists visiting the region will automatically know where to go.

She continued, “I think anything other than that might be too time-intensive, too expensive” — and it might not draw the numbers of people the workgroup is trying to attract.

The development of genealogy as a potential project was suggested by at least two of six break-out groups taking part in the Jan. 31 workgroup meeting that drew individuals with ties to historic, cultural and heritage organizations from across Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties. All had a stake in heritage tourism efforts in the Mohawk Valley Region.

During the Feb. 6 follow-up session, Gina DaBiere-Gibbs, the tourism director for the Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, suggested marketing the region to people of Dutch and German descent, as many of their ancestors and other immigrant groups came to or moved through the region on their way to the western frontier.

A number of individuals connected with libraries and historical repositories (for example, Montgomery County Historian Kelly Farquhar) said that they receive numerous queries from people researching their families’ histories.

An individual from a Schoharie County organization said that group occasionally helps put family reunion packages together; and Farquhar said the Herkimer County Historical Society recently hosted a “Who Do You Think You Are” broadcast at Herkimer County Community College. Other genealogy-linked programs in the area include cemetery tours such as those in Johnstown and Gloversville, for instance.

St. Johnsville resident Tracy Montoni, who formerly worked with Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission’s tourism program, suggested that it might be a good idea to link a genealogy program in the Mohawk Valley back to Ellis Island.

Among the drawbacks of a focus on genealogy as the catalyst project is that many volunteer-based organizations lack personnel to do genealogical research.

Norm Bollen, chairman of the Fort Plain Museum Board of Trustees, said there’s also an expense factor connected with the development of a genealogy library.

Since the goal is to promote the museums and historic sites, it was suggested that instead of having genealogy research be a main project, each historic facility in the region might have individual exhibits with regional maps, lists of genealogical resources and additional materials of relevance that tie them to each other.

It was also posited that genealogical research is something that’s “motivated by [the researcher], knowing that their ancestors are from this area; so it doesn’t seem like a project that lends itself” as a tourism catalyst project.

Another individual said that it’s really a story about migration, and genealogy stems from that.

Workgroup Chairperson Helen Martin noted that genealogy can be tied in with the Revolutionary War Trail, which the group had previously identified as a potential primary catalyst project because it encompasses all six counties in the region and connects to other regions as well.

Additionally, much has already been done to develop the Revolutionary War theme— particularly by the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission, which developed Revolutionary War Scenic Byway maps, for example. Those can be digitized along with other former MVHCC materials and resources. Additionally, a web-based Revolutionary War Trail map developed by Montoni is available and can be relaunched.

Montoni said the interactive map can also be used to highlight different themes within the region.

Martin noted the Revolutionary War theme also makes it possible to make good use of the limited funding available (about $90,000) “without trying to start a project virtually from scratch.”

Another advantage is that there are existing “A”-quality Revolutionary War sites within the region for tourists to visit. Unfortunately, many such sites are seasonal

Little Falls resident Nan Ressue, who represented Little Falls’ Preserve Our Past, cautioned those present that the Revolutionary War trail is “a passive experience,” she said.

“We need to interject some active experiences along with the passive,” such as rock climbing and fishing, Ressue added.

Martin said, “Once you draw the people to the area, then the area can expound on it and sell it any way they want.”

Solomon said, “I think we do need to breathe new life into that Revolutionary War map, so the idea could be ancillary tours. What else could you do to entice them?”

Leigh Eckmair, of Gilbertsville, alluded to the Path Through History as a skeleton. “On that skeleton, you can hang pants, a shirt, a scarf, a pin, different shoes, an apron” — and dress it up with various other themes, she said.

Solomon noted that the Canalway Corridor needs to be promoted. She asked, “Should we market the Mohawk Valley Region as the birthplace of America. Do we want to brand ourselves?”

The tagline, “Gateway to the West,” was suggested.

Solomon said she has access to a state map on which Underground Railroad sites are identified and suggested that the company that published it could be approached about additional uses.

Another catalyst topic under consideration is bicycling and trails, for which a considerable amount of work has been done.

It was suggested that the group start with the Revolutionary War and use GIF technology to create layers: What does migration look like? What about the development of the canals and industrialization?

“People can look at one layer at a time,” it was suggested.

Ressue supported a comment by Utica resident Tim Trent about the identification and promotion of “unique points” in the region — “things you can’t get anywhere else”— such as Herkimer County’s Herkimer diamonds, low rock climbing, and the highest lift lock.

Trent said that he currently owns a domain name that could be useful for the group:

Montoni suggested the next step might to be to form subcommittees, one of which might look at Gettysburg battleground and historic Williamsburg models, for example. Another group might look into providers of website and marketing services, she said.

The next meeting of the workgroup for the Mohawk Valley Region will be held on Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. in the downstairs conference room at the Fulton County Office Building on Main Street in Johnstown.


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