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LOOKING BACK at a Letter written in May 2006, Sharon Lubitow and Mark De Cracker (6-Oct-2009)

In the late 1970’s, Staunton, Virginia, looked much like Wayne County villages look today. Empty storefronts, few services, no traffic – in short, nothing to attract either visitors or homebuyers. There were, however, “great bones”: architecture, history, a location close to highways and a story to tell. It took a catalyst, which for Staunton was development of The Museum of American Frontier Culture. Made possible by a state and local partnership, the museum gave passing motorists a reason to get off the Interstate and see what Staunton had to offer. That was not much, at first, but as visitors came, stores and restaurants sprang up to serve the need, and a cycle began. An area once dark at night now has stores, restaurants and even a Shakespeare theatre. Staunton has attracted new business and industries and stands as a testament to the power of an idea, a catalyst.

We in Wayne County sit in an area with these same ”great bones”. We live in an area of great physical beauty, close to the Thruway, with towns and villages full of wonderful architecture and stories to tell. The stories of Wayne County are as old as the founding of our country and the New York-Massachusetts land dispute. It continues through settlement, the Erie Canal, the Burned-over District, the founding of two modern religions, and the rise of the Empire State. Immigrant sagas, the Progressive era, the Depression, World Wars, and the changes they and the twentieth century brought, are all part of what we have to share. Wayne County offers beauty, history, ethnic and cultural diversity and what could be called the soul of America.

But as we sit here in 2006, we are undervalued and have not achieved the rich economic rewards that are available to us. Other regions of this country have a fraction of what we have – yet they have packaged and linked themselves so well that they overflow with economic benefit.

We have yet to realize and make use of our assets. The power that we all have is in the development of a critical mass where we join hands and assets and package ourselves for regional and world attention. The old saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats” is truly applicable. The power is in everyone working together – not different groups with different agendas and missions! The power is in developing and branding Wayne County, our region, and eventually the entire canal route - and linking our attractions to others.

The canal, the Mormon and Spiritualist sites, the historic places, natural and scenic wonders such as Sodus Bay, Lake Ontario and Chimney Bluffs, our orchards, our woods with their spring carpet of wildflowers - these are all treasures. But of what benefit are these treasures if we cannot surround them with clean and vibrant towns and villages, shopping that is distinct and memorable, and people who are ready, friendly and confident?

And what good is it if travelers cannot get off our main highways, see signage that directs them to intended destinations, easily access tourism information, see small hamlets and lovely towns that are dressed up and look clean and interesting, and find modern accommodations and places to dine and rest? Thruway signs need to be installed that identify Wayne County and the Erie Canal Heritage Corridor, not some ambiguous name.

How do tourists get from place to place? Do we have roads and byways that are marked, that identify places to see, mark shopping spots like antique trails, farm markets, boutique shops, and all the wonderful places that we have - but sometimes don’t advertise well?

These travel ways must be the arteries that link us and efficiently take people through our region toward their destination. We must offer signs and byways that deliver “anticipation” and “unique experiences” – otherwise we’re just another road in another place. We need people to stop and stay and spend money!

Most everyone can recall instantly a favorite byway in some other state or place. Route 1 or 100 in Vermont. The Blue Ridge Mountain roads, the out-of-the-way byways through Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I-87 in the Adirondacks . . . One of the best signs for building anticipation is the one north of Glens Falls as you head north into the Adirondacks – a huge bronze sign stating, “You are entering the Adirondacks – one of America’s most scenic highways”. This gives that sense of anticipation and creates excitement.

We must take a position of “inclusion” as we move forward.

Planning for the future must include building a comprehensive, cooperative solution to our economic stagnation, addressing collaboratively the prospects for tourism, and must have a high standard for measuring success. It is imperative that we create partnerships within the county, as well as seeking them regionally.

There is no reason that Wayne County is not a #1 destination place for visitors from the region, the state, and around the world.

But we must overcome some old problems and roadblocks.

Our enemies are: delay, confusion, turf battles, political wrangling, and procrastination. We can no longer let these issues block us from success.

Success will also require selling us to us. The 2002 Randall Tourism study found that local people often could not direct visitors to sites in their own communities, as well as being unable to tell the visitor what he might like to see. We act as if we have nothing of worth.

We need to link those people who know what we have here, and who strive, each in his own way, to elevate Wayne County. Our goal will be to learn together and come together as a team to improve Wayne County’s image internally and externally.

Approaches to raising our county self-esteem might include a local “History Happened Here” program to complement the state’s kiosks at Thruway travel plazas or a series of newspaper articles on local attractions.

We need to save and restore wherever possible our historic buildings – they provide a charm and beauty modern buildings cannot match.

We are developing, and sharing with other areas, a program called “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal”, a fifteen-mile trip through time. The first “Fifteen Miles” loop identified shows the visitor that there were three different canals, each with a distinct route. The visitor also has the chance to see an early lock, learn about an aqueduct, and see part of the original four-foot ditch. Each “Fifteen Miles” will showcase what is unique about that area’s canal history. Linked together, the “Fifteen Miles” programs will enhance the canal’s potential for historic and educational tourism.

On May 25, 1961, President John Kennedy challenged America with this statement: “We will place a man on the moon by the end of this decade and return him safely to the earth”. This vision and challenge changed America forever. New industries were formed, new technology was developed, partnerships between the best companies were created and we achieved the mission in July 1969 and more importantly, this nation was propelled into world leadership in technology and many other areas. We in Wayne County need to find the will to set goals for ourselves that are as bold as a moon landing. We need to embrace the untried, knowing success is not inevitable. We need to reach out to all those who do not yet appreciate what we have here. We have to keep trying because...

...sometimes it just takes a catalyst.


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1 Comment to "Wayne County and the Future"

  1. Gil Burgess Said,

    I recently explored both Staunton and Roanoke, Virginia. Wow! If similar things were done in Wayne County---and I think we're on the way---along with other ideas expressed in the 2006 letter, we could bring in a lot of visitors and perhaps some really worthwhile new residents. Of course, being able to arrive and depart from Wayne County by a regional train station located here would really help!!!

    Posted on Tue Nov 03, 03:05:00 PM EST


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