By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Tourism officials in Humboldt County hope to designate the Northcoast as a National Heritage Area through the National Park Service.
The move aims to boost tourism by marking areas unique for their natural resources, culture, history and recreational activities in both Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
"It's very much of a tourism program, from our point of view," said Tony Smithers, executive director of Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The designation would add the Northcoast to National Park Service Web sites, brochures and publications. The effort targets tourists who take trips ¬ó rather than luxury vacation packages ¬ó to learn about historic or natural sites and join activities.
"They want to learn something," Smithers said, noting a generally well-educated, rich population. "They stay longer and spend more."
The idea came from efforts by the Eureka Timber Heritage Association to promote Humboldt County's logging and railroad history by preserving and showcasing artifacts from those industries.
"Here on the Northcoast, we have so much to offer," Smithers said.
He pointed to the region's American Indian heritage, a maritime history with lighthouses and shipwrecks and the effort by the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League that created parks to preserve the northcoast's giant trees.
"We have to be competitive," Smithers said of tourism marketing. "We don't have wine country, we don't have gold country."
And the region has failed to connect the parks, redwood trees, maritime history and other resources that the two counties share.
"It's so fragmented. There's nothing that's kind of drawing it all together," Smithers said. "This is sort of putting it on the map."
It's an effort that local tourism officials agreed was worth trying as another marketing tool to showcase the region.
The logging industry that focused on the tallest trees in the world makes a unique niche, said Redwood National and State Parks interpretor Rick Nolan. The coast's once-busy harbors that served as importing and exporting hubs marks another.
"From a marketing perspective, it's just very consistent with what we've been seeing in the area and the story that we want to tell," said Adrienne Parker, principal of Motivo, a San Mateo marketing firm that the Visitors Bureau of the Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce hired to boost the county's tourism.
A national heritage area can seek up to $10 million in federal grant money each year to match funds from corporations or sponsors on projects. Those projects could include restoring buildings, expanding museums and anchoring a tall ship in Humboldt Bay.
The designation also prompts government agencies, residents, groups and businesses to partner on those preservation projects.
The Northcoast would join 37 other National Heritage Areas across the U.S. and mark the first in California.
The northeast hosts most of the other areas. They celebrate steel mills and coal mines in Pennsylvania, farming and ranching in Iowa, car manufacturing in Detroit. Others highlight rivers, railroads and Civil War and American Revolution battles.
Smithers planned to meet this week with representatives from state politicians' offices and tourism marketing groups. A study group of officials from parks, historical societies, chambers of commerce and other organizations will form to draft a plan over the next year.
The plan will highlight the area's offerings and their significance. It must gain approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior, then the U.S. Congress.
A nonprofit management board then likely would form to run the project, Smithers said.