I love Google Alerts! I never know what’s going to show up in my email box each morning. Today, this article caught my attention, “Columbus, Others a Model for Heritage Tourism.” STOP! WAIT! Don’t let the boring title keep you from digging into this interesting report on some of the highlights of the Alabama-Mississippi USA Rural Tourism Conference.
I read articles every day about rural places all over the world that are selling their souls for some kind of development that is purported to save them from their downward spiral.
Theme type destinations crop up in rural areas at about the same speed as we see the rise in interest in “sustainability”, which makes me wonder if there isn’t a connection here! What are we trying to sustain, if we continue to welcome, even encourage development in rural areas that degrades the true experience of the culture and heritage of the area supposedly being “preserved?”
What is the Answer to Sustaining and Growing Rural Economies?
Check out the solutions reached by John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Association and Vaughn Grisham, director emeritus of the McLean Center for Community Development in the article.
What thrills me is the stress and attention these two men give to the capability of the rural communities in their areas to find the solutions and make them work.
I like the reference to how the town of Colquitt, population 1,869 got started on their project with a budget of $2500 which has now grown to millions! This is the way rural development money should work. Locals start with an great idea that received the funding as needed to be successful.
I HATE it when I see some grantwriter or developer come to town with his or her own idea, which the town is talked into.
Why? For two reasons:
Scale – Making It Fit Your Small Town
By starting with local volunteers, a project grows in the town, not in spite of it.
Anyone who lives in a small town knows it’s like a big dysfunctional family, with members each needing to feel like they run the show. Things shake down over time, and progress is made based on the commitment and tenacity of the local population.
Buy-in By Small Town Locals
Go to Colquitt, Georgia, US’s website and read about Swamp Gravy. They now have an annual event with a cast of over 100 in a town of less than 2000! This project has been embraced by the town from the inside. That’s the source of its strength and success.
So how can you do something like this in your small town?
1. Share your vision with other locals, and build your team.
2. Ask for technical assistance as you need it. Outside help is great and valuable – just remember the power of your local, enthusiastic team.
3. Ask for money (grants) after you are clear how much you need and why you need it. If you try to get money before your idea is jelled, you might end up writing a grant for something that doesn’t resemble your initial vision. Getting money becomes the primary goal, not funding your project.
4. Continue to make it fun. We run on volunteer energy in small towns, and nobody wants to volunteer for something that’s not FUN!
So… why the “Spooky” in my title? To get you to open this thing, of course.
Photo – Thanks to Plutor on Flickr