Destination: History—Land&People

"Is photography allowed?" Already unsheathing my camera, I asked the question of an official-looking man at the door of the Archaearium, the new archaeological museum at Historic Jamestowne, an excavated colonial fort in Jamestown, Virginia.

"No," the man replied, his voice dropping to a whisper. "But I've seen people do it. Just be discreet. And don't photograph the human remains."

Human remains? I had expected pottery shards and knife points, not bodies. Intrigued, our party joined the boisterous throng of tourists who crowded the museum on its opening day in May. Beautifully lit exhibits included medical instruments, armor, ceramics, and coins uncovered during a 10-year archaeological investigation. In front of a panoramic window overlooking the fort, an interactive video screen indicated where various items had been found.

But the main draw, clearly, were the skeletons. In a darkened room lay the earthly remains of two of the many Jamestown settlers who met their fates in the early months of colonization. One, scientifically labeled JR102C but nicknamed "JR" by archaeologists, still exhibited his cause of death—a lead musket ball lodged below the knee.

The opening of the Archaearium was one of several events marking the kick-off to Jamestown 2007, an 18-month commemoration of the settlement's 400th anniversary. In May 1607, three ships—the Godspeed, the Discovery, and the Susan Constant, carrying a total of 104 English colonists—turned west from Chesapeake Bay and up the James River. Once they felt safely inland from the Spanish galleons patrolling the coast, the colonists disembarked on a small island with a broad view of the river. Somewhat optimistically, Captain John Smith would later call it "a verie fit place for the erecting of a great cittie." With their sovereign King James I in mind, they named their settlement Jamestown—the first permanent English foothold in the New World.

Today, the old fort and ruins of the surrounding village are preserved at the Historic Jamestowne site, jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now known as APVA Preservation Virginia). These organizations work cooperatively with the adjacent Jamestown Settlement, a private historical park that includes a reconstructed fort, costumed interpreters, and replicas of the Godspeed, Discovery, and Susan Constant. Another attraction is the Glasshouse, where costumed glassblowing artisans produce their wares in a reconstructed 17th-century studio. Shuttle buses bring visitors to these attractions from an off-site parking lot, conserving the riverfront's bucolic setting.

For the people who have managed Jamestown's historical parks for decades, the Jamestown 2007 commemoration represents a nearly unprecedented opportunity to attract visitors—and to protect an important chunk of the surrounding landscape. Preparations for the event are in full flower, including the planned acquisition by James City County of nearly 200 acres near the historic sites to create Anniversary Park, a primary venue for commemoration events. For years, the county has wanted to protect the highly developable land in this historic and natural environment, which draws more than a million visitors to both Historic Jamestowne and the Jamestown Settlement each year.

Now, with the help of The Trust for Public Land and the strong support of Virginia's congressional delegation—U.S. senators John Warner and George Allen and U.S. representatives Jo Ann Davis and Frank Wolf—the county and its partners will create both a site for the celebration and a park that will offer public recreation in keeping with the region's historic significance, including camping and access to Powhatan Creek and the James River.

Heritage Tourism and Resource Conservation

The project illustrates how conservation groups often work with historic preservationists and economic development specialists to support heritage tourism, the fastest-growing segment of the domestic travel industry. Conservationists understand that partnerships with heritage groups can provide opportunities to create new parkland that otherwise might not exist. And undeveloped viewsheds and open or agricultural land can be important elements of an authentic experience for visitors.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines heritage tourism as travel to places and participation in activities that authentically represent American stories, past and present. According to the National Trust, travel and tourism directly contributed $600 billion to the U.S. economy in 2004. In that year, more than 80 percent of all travelers chose to visit historic and cultural sites. On average, those tourists spent $623 per trip, compared to $457 for other tourists—and they stayed longer at their destinations.

Heritage tourism has proven successful across the country. In Virginia alone, the nearly decade-old Virginia Civil War Trails initiative has unified and brought attention to the state's myriad Civil War sites, through a comprehensive program that includes markers and interpretive materials. Because of the program, visits to the state's Civil War sites jumped more than 15 percent between 1996 and 1997, and a statewide study showed that Civil War travelers spent about $71 per day compared to $50 spent by other tourists. In Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming, the regional Yellowstone Heritage Partnership has similarly linked historic sites in the region through exhibits and other materials, attracting hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding.

The Jamestown 2007 organizing committee estimates that as many as 2.4 million people will come to the area over the course of the 18-month commemoration—with 90,000 arriving during next May's anniversary weekend alone. Although the expected economic boost from the commemoration is difficult to quantify, park officials understand their contributing role to the local and regional economy.

"As a member of the local tourism community, we recognize that the more people come here, the more it will benefit everyone," says Mike Litterst, spokesman for Colonial National Historical Park, which includes Historic Jamestowne and nearby Yorktown Battlefield. "As little as ten years ago, it would be rare to see the Park Service as a member of a convention and visitors bureau, but that has changed. In this area, as the Park Service has gotten more involved, we see a greater appreciation in the community for what we do and who we are, and that can only benefit the conservation of these resources for future generations."

Anniversary events are not limited to Jamestown itself. More than 160 towns, cities, and counties throughout the commonwealth will celebrate the milestone. In nearby Chesapeake, Virginia, for example, 2007 activities may include creating a multiuse trail along the Dismal Swamp Canal and staging a heritage arts festival featuring rural arts and crafts. Other localities plan building restorations, new historical markers, and tree-planting efforts—as well as down-home fish frys, music fests, and parades.

"Many communities are choosing to do historic preservation projects, so the commemoration is serving as a catalyst for a greater awareness of historic resources," says Ross Richardson, a spokesman for Jamestown 2007. "When people travel to historic places, they are looking for a theme, and we're looking for ways to provide that theme, as well as specific sites and activities they can participate in."

Conservation and preservation groups plan to use the celebration to address pressing needs facing the state's natural and historic resources. "Like a family who has company coming over, you do special things to get ready, and that's true with this commemoration," says Kathleen Kilpatrick, Virginia's state historic preservation officer. "We view 2007 as an enormous opportunity to put our house in order, and many historic sites and museums and communities are working in that vein to protect our resources. We hope the world will be coming to Virginia and that the commemoration will really be statewide in nature."

Journey Through Hallowed Ground

In north-central Virginia, organizers of a regional heritage area known as The Journey Through Hallowed Ground will release a guidebook this fall, hoping to attract tourists who may be coming to the Mid-Atlantic region for the Jamestown anniversary. This relatively new heritage area stretches 175 miles between Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Charlottesville, Virginia. It contains hundreds of historic and cultural sites, including more Civil War battlefield sites than anywhere in the country. Also located here are Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the homes of seven U.S. presidents, among them Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Dwight Eisenhower.

Heritage areas are large, lived-in landscapes, which are managed by public-private partnerships that tackle a wide range of preservation, historic interpretation, and conservation activities. They are predicated on the notion that people want to visit authentic sites related to their cultural heritage. The National Park Service currently recognizes 27 national heritage areas, which attracted 88 million visitors in 2005, and more than two dozen bills are before Congress to authorize more. "People are looking for new strategies for sustainable development," says Brenda Barrett, the Park Service's national coordinator for heritage areas, "and they see partnering with the Park Service as branding the area and in turn attracting new visitors."

(Legislation that would establish The Journey Through Hallowed Ground as a national heritage area has been introduced in the House and the Senate through the leadership of the Virginia congressional delegation.)

One bright day I traveled a portion of the route across the rolling, hilly Piedmont to Montpelier, President Madison's former home, currently under-going an intensive four-year restoration. A hard-hat tour through the mansion, covered in scaffolding and dust, was interesting, but the most striking aspect of the estate was its verdant setting—a landscape that appeared surprisingly unchanged since Madison's time. Surprising, because it is only an hour's drive from the burgeoning metropolitan region surrounding Washington, D.C.

Conservation of such landscapes is a primary goal in creating heritage areas, and one reason TPL has joined with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Scenic America, the Piedmont Environmental Council, and other national, regional, and local groups to support The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. In 2004, TPL helped purchase for conservation 144 highly visible acres in Waterford, Virginia, midway along the heritage corridor. This 19th-century community retains such integrity that it has been designated in its entirety as a National Historic Landmark.

"Our goal in these projects is to conserve the buildings and landscapes that give our communities their character and link us to our past as a people," says Rose Harvey, regional director of TPL's Mid-Atlantic Region. "But they also support an industry that brings important economic benefits to communities, which helps us make the case for their protection."

Through similar projects, the partnership hopes to conserve such landscapes while encouraging economic benefits through heritage tourism. "These bucolic rural landscapes frame more American heritage sites than any other place in the country," says Cate Magennis Wyatt, president of The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership and an economist by training. "Once you make the decision to change that landscape, you have to ask, what is the true cost to the citizens and the municipalities? Tourism is the third-largest industry in Virginia, and the economic benefits are significant. And what about losing the opportunity for children today to literally walk in the footprints of those who created this country? How do you quantify that?" From her office in Richmond, Kathleen Kilpatrick is heartened by the collaborative nature of current preservation efforts around the state. She notes that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has pledged his support for the conservation—through acquisition or private easements and other measures—of 400,000 acres of land by the end of the decade.

"Whether you're talking about archaeology at Jamestown or the restoration at Montpelier, this is the top tier of preservation work in the country," Kilpatrick says. "Tourism is a resource-based activity, and with Virginia's great historic and natural resources, we've got to work to make sure they remain that way. They define Virginia, and they're the reason people come here."

Kim A. O'Connell, based in Arlington, Virginia, has written widely on conservation and preservation.