Cultural heritage tourism has become one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism market. More and more tourists are seeking out places where history, local culture and home-grown flavor come together to make them unique.
"Studies by the Travel Industry of America show that it is the No. 1 reason people travel especially people in the 35-54 age group," says Wilson Martin, Utah State historic preservation officer and a member of the state's Cultural Heritage Council.
Those studies show that cultural tourists are interested in interactive learning, that they tend to stay longer and spend more money, that they seek out heritage lodging and heritage foods. "What they want is an experience, not just a vacation," Martin says.
The CHC was formed to help Utah communities and neighborhood develop strategies, events and products that will attract those travelers. The council "helps coordinate activities and awards grants," he says.
It has a dual purpose. "By enhancing the experience for visitors, we also enhance the communities. Gov. Huntsman has said that 'the most important and successful strategy to improve rural economies is the development of heritage tourism.' Our goal is to create vibrant, strong communities that will attract visitors."
To date, Utah has four designated heritage areas that are partnerships between communities, businesses and individuals who have banded together to promote the sites, products, food and lodging of their areas. Two of those areas have received national heritage designation which is pretty good considering there are only 37 national heritage areas in the country, Martin says.
Heritage travel offers something for everyone, says Monte Bona, who has worked with developing Utah's Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area for more than a decade. In this area, he says, "You can stay at bed and breakfasts, eat heritage food, get custom-made cowboy boots, see how the ancient Anasazi lived, take tours by ATV or horseback, find Western Legends of movie fame."
More than that, he says, "you can learn about how the Mormon pioneers colonized the West. And you can get the sheer experience of small town America. People who come from Salt Lake often tell us they want their kids to see what Utah was like when they were kids, when there were still sheep and cows around, and you could see the stars at night."
The designation not only strengthens the economy of the area, it preserves and protects important parts of the past, Bona says. While generating community-building, "the development efforts have protected and improved infrastructure."In these days when gas and the economy may have you looking for fun, interesting, meaningful adventures closer to home, you can easily find them in one of these heritage areas:
Bear River Heritage Area
As its name suggests, the Bear River Heritage Area takes in the watershed area of the Bear River, one of the most important rivers of our region. The heritage area straddles the Utah-Idaho border and represents a partnership with the two states.
It is a an area of strong agricultural tradition and natural beauty, where you can trace the footsteps of early mountain men, Mormon settlers and generations of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.
The heritage area consists of seven counties, four in Idaho (Bear Lake, Caribou, Franklin and Oneida) and three in Utah (Box Elder, Cache and Rich). It has been subdivided into four heritage regions:
• Golden Spike: Named for the events surrounding the completion the Intercontinental Railroad in 1869, this is an area that honors both the past and the future. You can see where the rails were joined at Promontory Point, sample some of the local produce that is an integral part of the agricultural economy, visit theBear River Migratory Bird Refuge that protects migrating waterfowl and learn about aerospace technologies at Thiokol.
• Cache Valley: Straddling the Utah-Idaho border, Cache Valley is some 50 miles long and 20 miles wide and is home to blue lakes and reservoirs, green (at least during irrigation season) fields, canyons, mountains and more. You can interact with 100 years of history at places such as the American West Heritage Center; be entertained by music and song at the Utah Festival Opera; marvel at pioneer architecture such as the Logan LDS Temple and Tabernacle; see where a great Western tragedy occurred at the Bear River Massacre monument.
• Bear Lake Country: Best known for the turquoise lake at its center, the two-state area has become a recreation mecca, but its appeal goes far beyond that. You'll also find history lessons, fanciful tales, western adventures and some of the best raspberries anywhere.
• Pioneer Trails: Several overland trails passed through what is now Caribou and Oneida Counties in Idaho, but the area was also colonized by early Mormon settlers. It is also famous for its springs Soda, Octagon, Steamboat, Formation. And you can find everything from National Grasslands to WPA projects.For more information, visit www.bearriverheritage.com
Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area
Spanning 250 miles from the small town of Fairview south to the Arizona border this district is home to National and State Parks and Monuments, recreational areas, pageants, artists' colonies, museums and more. The heritage area has been divided into five districts, each with a special flavor and personality:
• In Little Denmark, which is basically Sanpete County, you see the influence of Scandinavian pioneers sent by Brigham Young to settle the area. You can see it in woodworking and stained glass, downtowns filled with buildings listed on the National Historic Register, distinct architecture ranging from humble homes to the Manti LDS Temple. Celebrations such as the Scandinavian Festival in Ephraim and the Mormon Miracle Pageant offer local flavor.
• In Sevier Valley, heritage is tied to the land, where farmers and ranchers follow the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers. You can shop for cowboy gear where real cowboys have shopped for a hundred years, listen to stories and songs of outlaws and adventurers around a campfire, feast on a Dutch oven dinner or just hang out with locals who love and nurture the land.
• The Headwaters offers insight and adventure tied to the waters that make the land in southern Utah blossom. You can hear tales of lost gold and find tiny towns where the spirit of mining endures. You will hear about settlers who crossed snow-packed mountains by walking on hand-made quilts to bring supplies to their starving families. You will learn of people who lived the ultimate sharing experience, the United Order.
• Under the Rim, named for its location beneath the redrock rims of the Colorado plateau, you see why Hollywood fell in love with this rugged landscape. You will also find Western memorabilia as well as high-quality Native American crafts and jewelry.
• The Boulder Loop, which begins and ends on U.S. highway 89, not only travels through some of the most dramatic scenery in the state but also takes you through some of the most isolated towns in America. It is not surprising that the area is drawing artists and craftspeople in increasing numbers. And, the pickle-and-pinto-bean pies at the Sunglow Restaurant in Bicknell are a heritage experience all their own.For more information, visit www.utahheritage.com.
Great Basin National Heritage Route
A partnership between Millard County in Utah and White Pine County in Nevada, this area highlights the passages of peoples as well as the striking landscape.
Fremont, Shoshone, Ute and Paiute Indians, explorers, trappers, miners, farmers and ranchers and even Japanese POWs all came through here. Some stayed and found ways to live off the desert land, others were temporary visitors. They all have left a rich cultural heritage.
The Great Basin is the largest American desert, covering some 190,000 square miles stretching from the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the west to the Wasatch Mountains on the east. You can learn about that heritage at Great Basin National Park west of Baker, Nev. It is also home to the famed Lehman Caves.
Other attractions are found on both sides of the border:
Millard County Must-sees include: Territorial Statehouse and Square, Cove Fort, Topaz Internment Camp, Great Basin Museum in Delta, Leamington Town Square, Fort Deseret and the Clear Lake Wildlife Management Area.
White Pine County Must-sees include: Great Basin National Park, White Pine Public Museum, Nevada Northern Railway Museum, Ely Historic Mural Project, McGill Drugstore Museum, Pony Express Interpretive Site, Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park and Cave Lake State Park.For more information, visit www.greatbasinheritage.org
Trail of the Ancients
Go back to a time and place long before the United States existed, even before the Spaniards came north from what is today Central America. Some of the ruggedly beautiful areas in the southeast corner of Utah and southwest corner of Colorado have not changed all that much since the 14th Century.
Archaeologists will tell you that people have lived in this area from at least 10,000 B.C., hunting animals and gathering seeds and berries.
Heritage sites abound. There are more than 4,000 known archaeological sites in Mesa Verde National Park alone. But the area is not just about what went before. There are scenic wonders, rivers that make floatable byways and the only place in the country you can stick body parts in four states at one time.
Among the offerings along the Trail of the Ancients are these:
Utah side: Butler Wash Indian Ruins, Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, the town of Bluff, Four Corners Monument, Grand Gulch Primitive Area, Hovenweep National Monument, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Three Kiva Pueblo.
Colorado side: Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, the communities of Cortez and Dolores, Lowry Pueblo, Ute Mountain Tribal Park.For more information, visit www.byways.org/explore/ byways/2597/places/