Taking It on the Road

Travelers Conservation Foundation spurs aid to historic sites.

At New Orleans' Jackson Square on Feb. 27, a few days after the Mardi Gras debauchery had petered out, a group of 350 tourism industry professionals, clad in matching "Tourism—Caring for America" T-shirts and hats, ate beignets and drank café au lait on the steps of Artillery Park while listening to a 50-piece gospel choir. After a dozen or so songs, the group, whose members had arrived the night before from places as far away as Quebec City, California, and Ireland, paraded through the French Quarter, led by scooter-riding celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 for a day's work sprucing up the city's oldest burial ground.

The merry volunteers went to work washing the cemetery walls, scrubbing away years of black mold and soot, and applying fresh lime paint. "When we first went in with the hoses and buckets, the water pressure went down and the people were actually fighting over water because they wanted to get to work," says Bruce Beckham, executive director of the Travelers Conservation Foundation (TCF), which coordinated the event. In addition to working on the walls and other common features—benches, gates, fences, paving stones, and landscaping—the crew cleaned and repainted more than 50 tombs. "It wasn't your standard cleanup, raking and so forth," says Lindsay Hannah, a founder of the New Orleans conservation firm Chaux Vive, which does restoration in the city's cemeteries and oversaw the volunteers.

TCF, established in 1999 by the United States Tour Operators Association to better care for the many cash-strapped cultural and historical sites that spur people to travel, solicits funds from those who make their living from tourism. The effort at St. Louis No. 1, estimated to be worth $100,000, supplements a $150,000 federal grant awarded in 2001 through Save America's Treasures (SAT), a partnership between the National Trust and the National Park Service. Other sat sites have benefited from tcf, which last year sponsored a similar restoration project on the south side of Ellis Island in New York Harbor that saved the Park Service an estimated $300,000. In 2003, Lincoln Cottage in Washington, D.C., an SAT site whose restoration is being led by the Trust, received a $60,000 check through tcf from three travel insurance companies. In 2000, TCF prompted Tauck World Discovery, a Norwalk, Conn.–based touring company, to donate $250,000 toward restoring Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

TCF's efforts, says Beckham, underscore the point that more people need to look after tourist destinations. St. Louis No. 1, for example, consecrated in 1789, over time lost much of its financial support and faced advanced decay with little prospect of relief. Beckham hopes the young foundation will inspire the tourism industry to take its own initiatives around the country. "We can't go back to New Orleans to do this every year," he says. "If 250 people come in on their own nickel to do it, shouldn't [everyone] be more attentive to what they have?"  

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