Thursday, December 02, 2010
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Looking for Lincoln begins developing management plan

Part 1 of 2

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[December 02, 2010]  Late Wednesday afternoon a group of approximately 20 people gathered in the Lile Lecture Hall in the McKinstry Library at Lincoln College for a two-hour discussion revolving around the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.

The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition was formed in 1998 as a tourism project. The group was a state-funded initiative that led to a very successful campaign for wayside signage at historical points of interest in 52 communities.

In 2002 a feasibility study was conducted for the coalition by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The document was updated in 2007, and a request to the United States Congress for a national designation resulted in approval in 2008.

The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area is made up of 42 central Illinois counties. The western border of the region is made up of Henderson, Hancock, Adams, Pike, Jersey and Madison counties. The eastern boundary is made up of Vermillion, Edgar and Clark counties. The area includes these counties and all those in between, with Sangamon and Logan counties being close to the heart of the region.

The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition has now contracted a consultant firm by the name of Heritage Strategies, which will guide the coalition in developing a management plan that will tie the 42-county area together and ultimately present it to the would-be tourist as a region with multiple attractions based on a common theme: the life of Abraham Lincoln.

At the Wednesday meeting, Peter Benton and Elizabeth Watson of Heritage Strategies spoke to the group about becoming unified partners with all the counties in the region.

One of the most important parts of becoming a successful region is that all the counties be actively involved in developing the management plan by offering their own insights into their communities and telling Heritage Strategies what they want the final outcomes to be.

Benton said the legislation that made the national area possible outlined six specific purposes that Heritage Strategies will be addressing in their management plan.

The plan must define the natural and cultural legacy of the Illinois region and how it relates to our national heritage.

The second purpose is to identify heritage, cultural and recreational tourism as well as educational and cultural programs in the area.

The third purpose will identify other historical subjects significant to the region, including Native American, European and African-American history in the region.

The fourth point will be to identify the role the region played in shaping the life of Abraham Lincoln specifically.

The fifth point calls for the coalition to create close relationships with the private sector, local governments, nonprofit organizations and local communities to work with all resources available for the educational and inspirational benefit of future generations.

And finally, the group is to work closely with the National Park Service. Benton commented on this, saying that Sue Pridemore of the Midwest Regional Office of the National Park Service has been very involved and helpful thus far.

Benson said his firm has divided the management plan into three segments, the first of which has just wrapped up, and the second part begins with the meeting held in Lincoln.

Part one began with visiting various communities, conducting public meetings and gaining information about existing conditions such as historic preservation, educational issues, research, community development and enhancement, and the basic economy of the region. The purpose was to determine how the heritage area can work with the region to the benefit of local residents and communities.

In part two, the firm will be working with the coalition and its steering committee to establish three to four directions that the management plan can take in the heritage area. Benson said these could be programmatic directions, how to physically organize or how the heritage area is managed. The group will also try to forecast what the outcome would be by taking any one of those directions.

Once that work is done, there will be another series of meetings in March to report on the plan thus far.

The final portion of the plan will be the actual writing of it. Benson said that by April, his firm will know what the plan should be, based on input from the communities. They will then write the plan, with a goal of having it completed by November.

When Benton finished outlining the management plan process, he turned the floor over to Watson, who talked about what the heritage area is.

She noted that in the region there are many great things happening to attract tourism and draw attention to the Abraham Lincoln history.

Thus far, though, the individual communities have basically kept to themselves in their efforts to attract tourism. As a region, there is now a unity among the counties, and this is something that needs to be exploited.

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She commented on the city of Lincoln and the Logan County area specifically, saying that this community has done a great deal to preserve their Abraham Lincoln heritage because they love their namesake, but also because they want the community to benefit from it.

Watson outlined some of the activities that have taken place in the New England area, Pennsylvania and Virginia as a result of a written management plan. She noted that the heritage areas helped stimulate the communities economically when activities that revolved around their individual histories proved to be profitable.

She said that in those areas, the development of a productive plan had not been without its roadblocks. She cited an example where one tour bus stop was interfering with a small community church and said the heritage area had to rework their stops a little bit so that the activities of church were not disrupted.

When Watson finished speaking, Robert Crosby, the project director for the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition, took the floor. He began by asking how many of those in the room were from Lincoln, Mount Pulaski and other areas.

Of the 20 or so in the room, the majority were from Lincoln and Logan County, but other communities were represented as well, such as Macon County, Pike County, the city of Springfield and Sangamon County.

Cosby said: "There are a lot of communities that have stories to tell that aren't in Springfield. One thing I know you'll notice is that people, when they hear you are from Illinois, will say, 'Oh, you're from Chicago.' 'No.' Then they'll say, 'Then you're from Springfield,' and when you say 'no,' then they look at you like they aren't sure there are other towns in Illinois.

"That is the case in a lot of places.

"Where else can you go and stand in the Mount Pulaski Courthouse, where Lincoln stood and practiced law? Where else can you go where that you can visit some of the places where conspirators planned to steal Lincoln's body than downtown Lincoln? Can you go to another place that was named for Lincoln before he was president?" he asked.

These are the types of things that show that this region does have a viable story to tell. The coalition has worked on this, but there is more to do.

Cosby, Benton and Watson all expressed that the individual communities in the region need to join together and decide what they want the management plan to be and what they want it to do for the entire region.

Cosby concluded by saying that the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition is designated by Congress as the coordinating entity.

"We're not the boss," he said. "We're not going to tell anyone what to do."


This concludes Part 1 of a two-part series. In Part 2, the floor is turned over to the audience, and community members offer their input on what the area needs in order to promote tourism and draw attention to our rich Abraham Lincoln history and heritage.

Those who spoke included Jan Schumacher of the Logan County Board; Geoff Ladd of the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau; Wanda Lee Rohlfs of Main Street Lincoln; Tom Martin, who is on the board of the Looking for Lincoln Coalition and the chairman of the Mount Pulaski 175th anniversary committee; as well as Sue Pridemore of the National Park Service and others.


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