This is the second in a series on National Historic Preservation Month presented by the City of Cheyenne Historic Preservation Board.
In the last 15 years preservationists like the City of Cheyenne Historic Preservation Board and the Alliance for Historic Wyoming have discovered the impact our historic structures and landscapes can have on community revitalization, and on tourism. Preservationists promote and protect historic resources and work with tourism offices to market those historic resources, developing heritage tourism packages. If you have ever traveled somewhere to experience the specific history, artifacts and people unique to that area, you’ve experienced heritage tourism.
In a 2009 national study on cultural and heritage travel conducted by Mandela Research, researchers found that “78 percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural and/or heritage activities while traveling, translating to 118.3 million adults each year. Cultural and heritage visitors spend, on average, $994 per trip compared to $611 for all U.S. travelers. Perhaps the biggest benefits of cultural heritage tourism, though, are diversification of local economies and preservation of a community’s unique character.”
Wyoming’s unique Western heritage draws millions of visitors to the state each year. Visions of cowboys, the romance of the railroads, cattle ranching and the wild, wild, West entice visitors to step back in time. Our state is indeed “forever West.”
This “forever West” sense of place is represented not only in the stereotypical cowboy and railroad images, but more importantly in the stories of the development of Western communities. Our historic buildings are perhaps the greatest asset we have in conveying and capturing those stories for heritage visitors. Our buildings are a tangible connection to the past.
Cheyenne’s buildings such as the former Union Pacific Railroad Depot and Tivoli Building fostered the very early stages of heritage tourism in our state. Cheyenne grew from the seeds of the railroad’s expansion west. Later, cows and cattle brought wealth to the city. The brutal winter of 1886-87 decimated the cattle industry and Cheyenne’s economy faltered. Cheyenne responded by capitalizing its next biggest asset to stave off an economic downturn.
The railroad was encouraging railroad communities to develop fairs. The railroad would offer special ticket fares for individuals to travel from Denver to these community fairs. In response to the railroad’s offer, the first Cheyenne Frontier Days planning committee convened in the upstairs office of the Tivoli Building. Cheyenne Frontier Days culminated from both its railroad and cattle ranching histories.
However, cultural and heritage tourism in the 21st century is much more complicated than hosting a cultural festival. Today, with so many opportunities for travelers to choose from, tourists set high demands for their travel dollar. The National Trust for Historic Preservation identifies five key elements in developing successful heritage tourism programs:
n find the fit
n make sites and programs come alive
n focus on quality and authenticity
n preserve and protect.
Sara Needles, Division Director for Cultural Programs with the state of Wyoming, echoed those principles and explained how relevant heritage tourism is to our state. “We could certainly make more money in tourism than we are now by more actively marketing and developing the heritage tourism product. A recent statewide study indicated that we have a wealth of artistic resources in our state. We need to encourage all the interested parties, artists, museums, historic preservation groups, etc., to work toward developing partnerships and collaborations in providing an interesting heritage tourism package.”
Cheyenne continues to work toward this level of heritage tourism. Organizations like the City of Cheyenne Historical Preservation Board have spent years creating historical markers and walking tours and supporting the preservation of historical structures in the city. The Cheyenne Frontier Days committees continue to present the biggest and best Western celebration. Groups like the Kiwanis Club have expanded on the Frontier Days efforts by hosting the pancake breakfast in the Depot Plaza drawing visitors to the place that defined Cheyenne’s incorporation, the railroad. Finally, property owners like those of Wyoming Home, the Grier Building and the Tivoli Building, to name only a few, are preserving those cornerstones of Cheyenne’s history.
There is still much work to be done and many more partnerships to facilitate. The evidence is clear; heritage and cultural tourism offer Cheyenne and other Wyoming communities distinct opportunities for economic diversification. Perhaps even more importantly, the process results in preservation of our historic structures and heritage.