New Programs Meet Mission for Iowa’s Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area
Strategy: Be Creative (More with Less), Collaborate in New Ways, Serve Local Community
Type of attraction: Heritage Area/Scenic Byway/Heritage Trail
Summary: When Iowa’s Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area received its federal designation in 1996, organizers were surprised to find no federal money was forthcoming.
When Iowa’s Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area received its federal designation in 1996, organizers were surprised to find no federal money was forthcoming. Undeterred, they continued the local fundraising they had already been doing and started lots of projects, mostly focusing on tourism development.
The ensuing years were a time of learning what worked and what didn’t, says Candy Streed, program and partnership director. By 2000, much of the organization’s local dollars were focused on specific projects, and it was going to be difficult to continue as an organization if federal funding wasn’t achieved.
“The board was trying to develop its own projects to create identity, but the identity was in the resources in the region – not the organization,” Streed notes. “We began making a real shift to the idea that the national heritage area belongs to the residents. We moved toward building capacity in preservation, conservation, and interpretation. We refined our mission with a deliberate partner focus and established programs to help support that mission.”
Fast forward 10 years, and in place of board-driven projects there is now an emphasis on programs that respond to organizations’ and residents’ interests and build strong partnerships, including a Partner Site Designation Program that has grown to 104 participants.
The receipt of an annual federal appropriation beginning in 2001 and additional fundraising also created a pool of funds for various grants. “With federal funds we jump-started our General Grants program to support exhibit development, educational programs, interpretation, marketing, signs and event programming,” Streed says. “And in 2006 – to celebrate our 10 years of designation – we started a Bus Grants program which was mostly supported by private funds.”
The Bus Grants program pays for local schools’ transportation costs to take field study trips to designated partner sites. “Local school funds were waning,” Streed says. “Sites like Living History Farms were seeing huge drops in visitation from school groups. There were transportation funds at the state level for arts-related field trips, but nothing for specifically for culture and heritage. Since we started the grant programs, we have given out more than $1.4 million to support local projects that contribute to the national heritage area’s mission.”
To further build strong relationships throughout the 37-county region, national heritage area representatives embarked on a listening tour in May 2008. Just a few weeks after the tour ended, devastating floods covered more than a third of the heritage area. Several sites had to close for the season to focus on clean-up and restoration of their collections and site. Some did not reopen until 2010.
That year, others were redesigning their operations and even relocating their museum and operating out of temporary locations. To assist partner sites, the national heritage area created a modest Disaster Recovery Fund.
Heritage area managers also moved forward in implementing recommendations from the listening tour focusing in particular on revision to the Partner Site Designation Program.
“We revised the program to make it easier to engage sites and created a strong foundation that fosters a long-term relationship,” Streed says. “We launched the new program in 2010 after a two-year hiatus with nearly 40 pre-applications to be a Partner Site.”
A peer review process was created through a Partnership Panel to evaluate applications, make a site visit, and determine designation. “It is important that they understand the evaluation is based upon several criteria, but the most significant is the site’s connection and interpretation of the story of agriculture,” Streed notes.
Designated Partner and Emerging Sites receive technical assistance from the national heritage area staff and the National Park Service. Once designated a Partner Site, they receive listings in the visitor guide and on the website.
“We are telling a collective story across northeastern Iowa about the history of American agriculture,” Streed says. “With the Partner Program, we are giving sites the tools to help tell their story better. The biggest value is in being a part of a group devoted to a common goal of heritage development.”