North Carolina Northeast Pushes for National Heritage Designation
Attention, history buffs and curiosity seekers. Heritage tourism is evolving into a substantial economic engine in Northeast North Carolina, and it is growing even stronger.
North Carolina's Northeast Commission has begun a push to get the 16 counties in the Northeast Region designated as a National Heritage Area by the U.S. Congress. The commission is partnering with eastern and southeastern partnerships in the state to designate the entire coastal North Carolina corridor as a National Heritage Area.
“Our 16 counties in the northeast, along with another 24 in eastern and southeast North Carolina, will make up 40 counties that will hopefully become the nation’s 50th National Heritage Area,” says Anita Johnson, North Carolina's Northeast Commission vice president of product development. “The corridor will pretty much be everything east of Interstate 95, and having national designation simply puts a powerful stamp of approval on all the historic sites we have.”
A Trove of Colonial History
Johnson says the heritage designation should be a given considering that, up until 1750, more than 90 percent of the U.S. population lived within 50 miles of the North Carolina coast. Northeast North Carolina alone is home to dozens of Civil War and Revolutionary War attractions, including Halifax, where the Halifax Resolves were signed as the first official action recommending independence from England.
“The region is also home to Bath, which was the first incorporated town in North Carolina, and Edenton, which was the first capital of North Carolina during Colonial times,” Johnson says. “I work in Edenton, and Colonial homes here date back as far as the 1700s.”
80 Attractions in 40 counties
To pursue the National Heritage Area designation, North Carolina's Northeast Commission hired a private consulting firm – Hanbury Preservation Consulting – to conduct a feasibility study that will ultimately help with the designation drive.
“Unannounced, my consulting team visited 80 sites in the 40 counties, showing up like regular tourists to evaluate the heritage tourism sites and see how they are run on a regular basis,” says Mary Ruffin Hanbury, owner of Hanbury Preservation Consulting. “We’ll finish our feasibility study by February 2012, all the while suggesting what improvements need to be made at historic sites to have everything ready for the push for federal designation."
Once the study is complete and has been presented to the commission, it will go to the U.S. National Park Service for review before heading to Congress.
Diverse Sites for Heritage Tourists
The National Heritage Area designation should be granted because the list of historic sites along coastal North Carolina is almost too large to compile, Hanbury says.
“Attractions like the Lost Colony, historic lighthouses, waterways, religious properties, historic homes, museums Fort Raleigh, Wright Brothers National Memorial – the entire region is amazing,” she says.
Nancy Nicholls, director of the Chowan County Tourism Development Authority, says that having a prestigious National Heritage Area designation will attract many more tourists to the North Carolina coastline.
“Personally, I think most visitors to our region are heritage travelers – loving history, culture and natural beauty,” Nicholls says. “Water and land are still what keep us going with fishing and agriculture, but for us here in tourism, heritage travel is our market, and most of our visitors enjoy small-town charm, beauty, attractions and relaxation.”
Bringing Tourists to North Carolina's Northeast
Northeast Tourism (NET) works with the North Carolina's Northeast Commission to market the region to visitors. During the past year, tourism directors from 16 counties visited 118 group tour operators to encourage them to plan motorcoach tours across the region. NET's "Hub & Spoke" marketing approach encourages groups visiting the region to take day trips to smaller towns while staying in larger towns nearby.