- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

It’s tupelo trees, old barns, churchyards and bluegrass that make up heritage these days, particularly if they happen to be located in Arkansas or Kentucky.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) announced yesterday that it had picked the Arkansas delta country and the central Kentucky heartland for a pilot rural preservation project to help the states revitalize their countrysides.

The two regions will divvy up $745,000 in funds meant to keep these regions strategically down home.

“It’s the small details, the small places that work to knit a region together. The little country store, the churches, the barns,” said Valecia Crisafulli, director of state and local preservation programs for the District-based NTHP.

“These are the types of signature places we want to identify. Those barns, for instance. They are an immediate physical symbol of agricultural economy and farm culture,” she said.

“And they’re slipping away. Sometimes it’s from development pressure, sometimes a large scale farm overlooks the hidden potential of an old building,” Mrs. Crisafulli added.

It is this honest and homegrown potential that is the basic premise of the new Rural Heritage Development Initiative. Hungry for Americana, visitors are willing to spend their cash on that one-of-a-kind bed and breakfast or local craft.

It’s all part of the “preservation-based economic development strategies,” according to the NTHP.

The two regions were picked over 11 other areas for the initiative, which was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a Michigan-based philanthropic group.

Long-known for spirited gospel and blues music, the 15 verdant counties of the Arkansas delta covers the eastern portion of the state, bordered by the Mississippi.

“The soul of the state is in the delta,” said Cary Tyson of the Department of Arkansas Heritage in Little Rock. “The most successful strategy is to bring public attention to our small treasures — like the ivory-billed woodpecker, sighted over in Brinkley in April. The world was watching.”

Believed extinct for 60 years, the bird’s unexpected emergence in the area brought the global news media running.

“But better than that, these kinds of things bring people’s love out. These they really become the catalysts for revitalization,” Mr. Tyson said.

Though progress of the new initiative will be developed and charted over three years, the NTHP has already laid down the groundwork — which indeed includes barn and church preservation and citing potential spots for ecotourism and heritage tours.

“It’s all a matter of identifying local assets — and that includes the old buildings and main streets, right along with artists, woodworkers, entrepreneurs,” Mrs. Crisafulli said.

“Imagine a wonderful, successful little place to buy a good cup of coffee emerges from this project. Or a new gospel music center in a church. That’s what makes a casual visitor decide to return as a long-term resident.”

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