Several years ago, federal lawmakers representing Niagara Falls pitched the idea of creating a “National Heritage Area” to better support the community’s tourism-based economy.
The plan promised to deliver better planning, additional guidance and more dollars to various efforts to boost people’s interest in the Falls.
Since 2008, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area has awarded more than $80,000 in grants to local organizations like Old Fort Niagara and Historical Lewiston. Additional grants were provided this year to Artpark, Niagara Falls Public Library, Museum of disABILITY History, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center.
While the funding has no doubt helped support these worthwhile organizations, it’s clear much more work needs to be done to continue to help the American side of the Falls reach its full potential as a tourism destination.
This week, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgian, D-Niagara Falls and Buffalo, joined local officials and representatives from the Niagara County Tourism and Convention Corp. in announcing plans to provide another $300,000 in 2015 to support the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area. The funding, which comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior, will be used to develop a new heritage tourism opportunity, one that will focus on the “Falls to Fort” area, stretching from downtown Niagara Falls to Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown. The goal is to extend tourist length of stay and total spending.
Officials also unveiled a new “Discover Niagara” map and guide, offering a detailed list of historic sites and attractions in Niagara and Erie counties that is modeled on National Park Service guides to other parks.
Higgins and others have recognized what many in the Falls area have been saying for years: This community is not only home to one of the most recognizable natural assets in the world, it is also a place where residents and visitors can take advantage of many cultural resources, including Old Fort Niagara.
The National Park Service recognized the national historical and cultural significance of the Niagara Falls region in a 2005 report and, in recent years at least, federal officials have attempted to take the recognition to another level with the formal National Heritage Area designation.
The “Falls to the Fort” concept unveiled this week makes sense as it places focus on the key elements and attractions that drive tourists to the western end of Niagara County.