By Tim Leeds
North-central Montanans may have more to offer to the world than they realize, and a meeting will be held to discuss that possibility.
The meeting, set for 8:30 a.m. on May 31 at the Heritage Center, grew out of the Share Your Heritage Pilot Workshop in Montana. The project is designed to help communities build "cultural corridors" to attract and keep tourists in the area.
"I think what it will do is provide an additional reason to keep visitors in our area an extended period of time," said Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
Cultural corridors also give local artisans and craftspeople an additional opportunity to market goods like artwork, quilts, jewelry and beadwork.
Vicki Munson was the project coordinator for the Share Your Heritage Pilot Workshop in Missoula March 21-23. At a meeting in Havre the week before the workshop, Munson used HandMade in America, a North Carolina organization, as an example of how to capitalize on local attractions and products.
HandMade promotes loop tours in North Carolina with attractions like craft studios, restaurants and historic inns. Studies have shown a 25 percent improvement in the economy of the areas promoted because of HandMade's marketing efforts.
Since the workshop took place, there has been increasing interest in developing cultural heritage tourism corridors in north-central Montana. Havre's meeting comes in the middle of several days of meetings, starting in Cut Bank May 30, and wrapping up in Virgelle June 1 during the community's annual "Touch the Trail of Lewis and Clark" celebration.
The meetings are intended to develop and explore local interest in creating the corridors. The group hopes to develop an inventory of attractions, ranging from historic or scenic sites to local farm and ranches hosting tours. Once the attractions are listed, they can be grouped into corridors with other attractions.
Once corridors are identified, the next step would be to decide how to market the attractions to tourists.
The Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana in Missoula found that more than 9.5 million out-of state tourists came to Montana in 2001, spending more than $1.7 billion in the state. Of those, more than 100,000 stayed in Havre.
The Chamber has been seeking ways to promote tourism in the area and to raise people's awareness of the business it provides.
The national Partners in Tourism awarded a grant to the Missoula Cultural Council for the pilot workshop to start the process of developing cultural corridors in Montana.