Historic Hudson Valley announced that it is removing the animals from Philipsburg Manor for a cost savings of $200,000/year. The organization manages several sites including Kykuit and Sunnyside in Westchester County. Two oxen, 18 sheep and lambs, and chickens have been relocated to farm sanctuaries. In addition, 13 people were let go earlier this year including the site manger of Sunnyside.
Philipsburg Manor and Sunnyside were two of the sites singled out in the August, 2012, Path through History kickoff program as primary tourist destinations in the Lower Hudson Region. I had heard about the departure of the animals through the grapevine.
Animals, of course, are a crowd favorite. Besides the appeal to children of all ages who visited the site, the animals also were attractive to teachers who participated in IHARE Teacherhostels there. Teachers who had never milked a cow before would joyously milk one at the farm and have their pictures taken by their fellow teachers for display back in the classroom.
Historic Hudson Valley unofficially has made a strategic decision not to participate in the Path through History project even though it supposedly would be one of the beneficiaries. Instead it has chosen to place its historic sites in “hibernation.” This means the sites will be maintained until the tourist climate changes with little expectation of tourism in the present. This decision is based on the drop in tourism from 18,000 day visitors in 2008 to 10,000 in 2012 with no end to the drop in sight. This excludes the extravaganzas and special events which drew 35,000. When a program on pirates was first offered, nothing much was expected, but people poured out of the woodwork and turned it into a really big event. Pirates, of course, have little to do with the Hudson River or any of the Historic Hudson Valley locations but they do bring the people in.
RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOUR THINK THAT NEW SIGNS ON THE NYS THRUWAY AND A WEBSITE WILL RESTORE PHILIPSBURG MANOR TOURISM TO THE PREVIOUS LEVELS.
These developments reminded me of a session I attended a conference several years ago at Columbia University. In one session there was a presentation by the director of Colonial Williamsburg who recounted how excited the staff had been when the attendance passed the 1,000,000 mark for the first time. Then the plan was how to build on that achievement to reach 2,000,000. As you may expect, the 1,000,000 turned out to be the high point and paid attendance for 2012 was 653,000. And this is a big operation with a big budget and high national name recognition.
RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOUR THINK THAT NEW SIGNS ON THE VIRGINIA THRUWAY AND A WEBSITE WILL RESTORE COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG TOURISM TO THE PREVIOUS LEVELS.
One of the comments made to me by officials at Historic Hudson Valley was about the lack of attendance from the Westchester residents. Historic Hudson Valley has little interest in trying to draw people from Pennsylvania or California who might stay over in hotels when people right next door with minimal travel expense to get to Philipsburg Manor, Lyndhurst, or Sunnyside weren’t driving or taking the train from New York City to visit these sites.
The public which Historic Hudson Valley wants to reach is the same public that was mentioned in the Hudson Valley Path through History regional meeting held January 25 at the Wallace Center in Hyde Park: the residents of the community in which the historic site is located. These people aren’t visiting the sites in their own backyard, the sites are starving, and the Path project is not designed to help them.
I am having a similar experience with places in the Bronx and Queens, places that aren’t even on the officially-designated prime destination sites within the New York region. While it is fine and dandy that millions of people are visiting Manhattan for business, for diplomacy, to shop 5th Avenue, to see Broadway plays, and even to sight-see on double-decker tour buses, and to visit such world famous sites as Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building, where else do they go?
It would be interesting to know how many of the out-of-state and out-of-country visitors to Manhattan also visit the Museum of the City of New York, the New-York Historical Society, or the American Museum of Natural History compared to the number of visitors from within the metropolitan area. [Note – I do hear foreign accents all the time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.] At some point, one might think that the people in the immediate vicinity of an historic site in Brooklyn, Queens, Westchester or wherever in New York State form a much larger and more accessible target audience than the phantom tourists from around the country or the world who are going to be enticed to visit upstate New York because of new signs on the Thruway or a website.
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO USE THE $1,000,000 TO HIRE TEN PEOPLE TO PROMOTE THE TEN REGIONS THEN USE IT TO PAY FOR FIELD TRIPS FOR 4TH GRADERS. THAT WILL BOOST ATTENDANCE MORE THAN ANY OTHER SINGLE ACTION.
But it won’t mean increase sales and lodging taxes. In the meantime, sites are in a survival mode and the audiences they need to reach are in the ones in their own backyard. That is the frustration with the Path through History Project and why so many people have opted out. It doesn’t meet their needs. Since we can’t expect help from above, it will take a grassroots effort to develop the plans, structures, and tasks to try to make historic organizations a vibrant center of the community that they should be. After all, we are a storytelling species, and if we don’t tell the story of our community, how can the community survive?
THE GRASSROOTS SPEAK
Below are some examples of the emails I have received on the subject consistent with the actions taken by Historic Hudson Valley. Since these were private emails I have omitted the names except in one case where I received permission to use it. I will explore more positive actions at the grassroots level in future posts.
I am historian for the Town of XXXX in XXXX County. We have group that formed a coalition of museums and historical societies along with several town/village historians. We meet on a monthly basis. We did a county museum map/brochure and are presently working on a place mat project to give to local restaurants with a museums located on the map. The coalition shares resources such as speaker lists and a locally published book list, and we have held a XXXX County History Week with programs to attract visitors. We’re doing great work, but it’s a struggle to be able to fund any of our projects. It seems it would be of more benefit, if some of that Path project money was filtered down to our local county level where the real work is being done!
I am very concerned about the path being taken by the leaders of Path Through History – there seems to be a great disconnect between the “upper levels” of project management and the people in the field – why are we constantly overlooked – we are an existing infrastructure with all the tools needed to move ahead – except the financing and the coordinated communication structure – I have pointed this out to the people in my region from the XXXXX who are engaged in the PTH project – I hope it is something that will be addressed – maybe what needs to be done is some kind of preliminary assessment any time a new action is proposed – the upper level management needs to ask itself: what resources are in the region our specific action is addressing? Who are the contacts? What information do we need from them? Can they support what we are proposing to do there? What else is needed? I think I’ll bring this up at our next meeting…
Date: Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Subject: RE: Doing Better: What Should be Done on the Path Through History
To: Peter Feinman firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for sending this along Peter; it reinforces the murmurs and grumblings that I heard during my time attending PTH meetings last year.
I stepped away from the effort in December. For what it’s worth now–two months later–I’ll forward you the ‘resignation’ note that I sent to our regional coordinator.
Have a good evening,
Brian J. Howard
Executive Director, OCHS
Subject: PTH Effort
Date: Sat, December 15, 2012 6:57 am
To: “Janice Fontanella” <Janice.Fontanella@parks.ny.gov>
I am writing to inform you that I have decided to step away from active participation in the PTH effort. Despite having attended several work group meetings and contributed to the MV heritage site list, I remain confused as to how this effort represents anything truly new, lasting, or unique to the promotion of cultural heritage tourism in NYS.
I hope the following observations will be of use as you move forward:
-STRUCTURE: As the state already has 1) established vacation destination regions and 2) the I Love NY campaign, I don’t understand why PTH is being administered through the state’s economic development councils. It seems counterproductive, especially given the necessary interplay between PTH and other tourism promotion efforts. Why PTH is a separate entity at all–instead of being structured as a program within an already well-established statewide tourism effort (read in: ILNY)–escapes me.
-APPROACH: Since its establishment, PTH has taken a ‘bottom up’ approach, with Albany encouraging most parts of the program to be developed within the ten regional work groups. This would be fine if our ideas were fed into a state-established structure, but that does not appear to the be case. Not only have we been asked to bring content to the table, but we’re also being asked to provide structure and implementation recommendations, which I’m fairly certain aren’t consistent across regions.
Unless I’ve missed something here, NYS has asked the ten different regions to provide ten unique plans, around which the state will structure its implementation effort. I feel that a ‘top down’ effort would be more effective at promoting a statewide initiative, with regions feeding their unique content into a single structure. There are no specific goals to focus our commentary towards, just the vague idea to ‘promote cultural heritage tourism’. Frankly, I feel that we’re wasting time, throwing around ideas without a net in which they will be caught.
-DUPLICITY: I don’t see what PTH brings to the table that hasn’t already been covered–ad nauseum–by past and present cultural heritage tourism initiatives. I only have the MV work group to cite, but why are we spending time reinventing the wheel when programs like the MV Heritage Corridor, Erie Canalway NH Corridor, and a wealth of local/county-wide initiatives are already in place? If money is available for cultural heritage tourism, I think it would be better spent coordinating between these myriad existing efforts rather than trying to develop PTH. While PTH may be new it isn’t unique.
-GUIDANCE FROM ALBANY: Communication of PTH’s specific goals has been sparse at best. At every meeting I’ve attended I’ve heard “We’re waiting for guidance from the Governor’s office” or “That hasn’t been decided yet”. Or worse, awkward silence in response to questions. Time and again, PTH has been likened to a plane that has taken off but is being built in the air. Why? It is not the concept of PTH I disagree with so much as the approach (or lack of one) taken by the state to its development and implementation. It was encouraging to see an ILNY representative at yesterday’s meeting, but I think one should have been with us since the start.
Please know that it is not my intention to denigrate the efforts of anyone who has participated in this program. A lot of time, talent, and treasure has been expended by our history and tourism professionals to develop this idea. I appreciate being asked to be a part of PTH and am encouraged to see that our great history is a priority at the highest levels of government. Please know that I am happy to contribute content if/when the time comes to do so, and that the my facility is open for future meetings, press conferences, and other promotional efforts as is appropriate.
Feel free to share this note as you feel is appropriate. What I am questioning is not the merit of PTH as an idea, so much as I am the disjointed, vague and duplicitous approach that has defined its development to date. If I can be of further assistance, please let me know. Otherwise, I wish you the best in your efforts.
Brian J. Howard
Executive Director, Oneida County Historical Society
1608 Genesee St.
Utica, NY 13502