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REDC Funding Cycle Begins: Start Your Cultural Heritage Tourism Proposals

U.S. Civil Rights Trail (

It’s that time of the year again. It is time to start preparing your proposals for the 2018 version of Hunger Games (see REDC: Funding “Hunger Games” Where History Is the Loser). However this time, I suggest the history community try something different.

To begin with, as a resident of the Hudson Valley, I received a notice of an upcoming public meeting on April 26 by the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council (MHREDC). The meeting was to be held at Resorts World Catskills in Monticello. That was a bit far to drive for a one-hour meeting so I passed. The location is significant. As we all know casinos are the saviors of the upstate New York economy. Each and every one which has opened has done blockbuster business in excess of expectations and transformed the surrounding region. Putting aside the alternate reality facts that are so in vogue these days, and back in the real world, there is an important lesson to be learned from casinos. They reflect the mindset of the people in power who make decisions about the allocation of funds in the current cycle. The importance to the REDC of history and civics for the benefit of the social fabric and for creating healthy communities where people would want to live and establish business is nil.

So let’s talk dollars and cents. To begin with there will be $750 million in state economic development resources available to fund regional economic development projects through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process. Using my region as an example, there will workshops and information sessions scattered throughout the region from the opening of the application process on May 1 (now passed) to the close on July 27 at 4:00 PM.

Again, using my region as an example, resources are available on the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council’s website ( and similar urls exist for the other regions. The resources of importance are:

Typically the history community applies for funding for their own organization and to state entitles like NYSCA and NYSOPRHP. By all means, continue to do so. In this post, I would like to suggest something bigger involving collaboration and cooperation.

Earlier this year I wrote about the Civil Rights Trail which opened on January 1, 2018 (The Confederacy Trumps New York on Civil Rights Tourism). The Trail now includes 114 locations in 14 states in the South. The project was initiated by the southern equivalents of the New York REDC. Those REDC’s decided developing and promoting cultural heritage tourism was beneficial AND PUT THEIR MONEY WHERE THEIR MOUTHS WERE. They didn’t simply talk the talk of cooperation and collaboration, they walked the walk. Teams were created combining the history community, scholars, and the state tourist departments to develop paths through civil rights history for tourists to actually use. Alabama took a leadership roles. I realize what I just wrote may sound like science fiction or a glimpse into an alternate reality based on the New York experience, but I assure you it all happened in the real world…and I am still delusional enough to think it can happen here.

Since I wrote about the Civil Rights Trail there have been some new developments. The Trail was featured in the Sunday Travel section of the New York Times (4/29/18). According to Lee Sentell, the director of the Alabama tourism department and who oversees the Trail, they expect visitation of 5 million people this calendar year. Just to make sure you read the number correctly that is 5,000,000. That’s a lot of people. The estimated tourist spending from the Trail is $725 million, that’s $725,000,000. That’s a lot of money. Puts the path through History to shame. Do you think New York will ever catch up to Alabama?

One of the overarching goals was to link together a whole host of historic sites instead of having each one fend for itself. As Sentell said:

The whole purpose is to elevate this group of mostly modest locations, churches and schools where significant events in American history happened, that for the most part have not had a great deal of local support.

Remember when cooperation and collaboration were the buzz words of the Path through History project except there was no funding to actually cooperate and collaborate?

South Carolina added a twist to the Trail by creating in 2017 a site for the Negro Green Book. This compilation was discussed in some political posts I wrote which I don’t send to the history community (see Negroes and the American Dream: Hidden Figures, Open Dreams).  In effect it served as the AAA from 1936 to 1966 listing where it was safe for Negroes to lodge throughout the country. It ceased around the same time as Negro was replaced by African-American.  The South Carolina website created by the African-American Heritage Commission contains over 300 locations. It also has suggested tours by various topics so you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself. Here in New York we have the Amistad Commission (see The New York State Amistad Commission: Do Black Lives Matter?) and the Path through History. Do you think New York will ever catch up to South Carolina and Alabama?

The article also mentioned two tour groups. I presume as part of the unrolling of the Civil Rights Trail there were some familiarization tours. One of the two tour companies mentioned specializes in custom itineraries. Do we have such tour operators who create custom itineraries based on the themes in the Path through History?

The other tour operator was Road Scholar. When the Path project began, the Hudson Valley region first met on January 25, 2013 (see A Fork In The Path Through History). The attendees, myself included, were asked to benchmark what they would like to see as a model for how the Path project should operate. The answer was Elderhostel. Since I “borrowed” the terms “Teacherhostel” and “Historyhostel” from that organization, I was quite pleased to hear that the history community supported programs like the ones I was doing mainly for teachers: multiday programs to multiple historic sites that combined talks, walks, and tours.

Years later, Elderhostel changed its name but not its programs. Here are some of the New York programs which could be considered Paths through History:

Historic Mansions on the Hudson River (The Warwick Conference Center)

Go back in the past to explore the tasteful but opulent grandeur of the Hudson River mansions that belonged to America’s wealthiest families of the Gilded Age. With historians and local experts, explore the grounds, houses and gardens of six mansions, including prominent wealthy names such as Rockefeller, Livingston, Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, Gould and Mills. Journey up and down the beautiful Hudson River Valley, and learn the story of these families and relive the culture of the Gilded Age with artful instruction by local experts.

The Roosevelts: The Life and Legacy of Franklin and Eleanor (Mount Saint Mary College)

Dive deep into the world of the Roosevelts as you visit their Hudson Valley home, attend lectures at the FDR Presidential Library and discover their haunts along the Hudson River.

The Hudson River Valley: A Landscape That Defined America (Mount Saint Mary College)

The Hudson River Valley has been called the landscape that defined America. Join us to explore its nationally significant cultural and historic heritage with expert background presentations and field trips to iconic sites such as New Paltz’s historic Huguenot Street, one of the nation’s oldest, featuring seven unique stone houses dating to the early 1700s, a burial ground and a reconstructed 1717 stone church.

Iroquois Culture: Yesterday and Today (Watson Homestead Conference & Retreat Center)

The Iroquois Confederacy, established in the 1400s, united warring Indian nations and established peace in fertile glaciated valleys and mountains of upstate New York. Learn about the legacy of this remarkable culture as you meet members of the Iroquois community and embark on field trips to important sites in Iroquois history. Journey to Ganondagan State Historic Site for presentations by Iroquois educators on their history and culture, and gain a new perspective on Iroquois influences in American representational governance and environmental stewardship.

These examples show it is possible to create Path through History tourism at least for one college and some conference centers.

So here are my recommendations for funding requests by you for this year.

Apply for funding to I LoveNY through its $15 million Marketing NY bucket in the REDC.

Apply for funding to replicate what the South did for its Civil Rights Trail. For example, in the Mid-Hudson Region, the application could be for the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley or Hudson River Art. There is no provision for statewide grants so it is not possible to apply for funding for the American Revolution in New York; each region would have to apply on its own. Pick a theme that works for you.

Apply for funding in partnership with TPA/County Tourism Department or with the TPAs of your region as appropriate.

Apply for funding in partnership with a college in your county and/or region which can assist in the research but leave open the option to draw on scholars from outside your geographical area.

Apply for funding to conduct familiarization tours with tour operators once the sites are identified and possible itineraries are created.

Apply for funding to develop the website, apps, and promotional materials needed to make the path/trail/route work.

Apply for real money. This means someone and/or organization needs to take the lead and needs to make the case to the regional committee that after five and half years of the Path through History project it’s time for New York to get serious and catch up to Alabama.