With national and international interest in heritage tourism growing, the National Park Service has launched an online resource to promote historic attractions across the country. That particular Internet presence could include Wheeling, a park service official suggested.
During a visit to Wheeling last week, Carol Shull, interim keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, gave a presentation on the varied resources available on the park service's website. Governmental and community leaders, historic preservationists and other citizens were on hand for Shull's talk at West Virginia Independence Hall Wednesday, Nov. 16.
One of the National Park Service's prime online resources is its Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary Series. To date, 53 itineraries have been prepared for more than 2,500 locations, Shull said. "We wanted to link a variety of places as destinations," she explained.
The park service has formed partnerships with state and local governments and community groups to produce travel itineraries for the website, Shull said. "We'd like to work with Wheeling on an itinerary," she added.
Using the itinerary for Richmond, Va., as an example, Shull said that city and state preservation offices and two units of the National Park Service worked together to develop an itinerary for 87 historic destinations in downtown Richmond. All of the destinations have introductory histories posted at the online site.
Of the 87 destinations, she said, "All are listed on the National Register. Each featured destination has its own page." She pointed out that the online itinerary includes pages for destination planning, maps, "learn more" sections and links to featured websites.
In addition to being a helpful resource for out-of-town visitors, the travel itinerary series is "used by people in the community to learn more about what's in their community," she said. "It's used by teachers and students.
"These things have been very, very successful," Shull commented. An indirect benefit of the series is that it may encourage leaders to preserve buildings and "preserve our heritage," she indicated.
Shull also showed the audience the website's Route 66 itinerary which includes funky hotels and attractions along the route that have been placed on the World Monuments Fund's watch list.
Turning her attention to Wheeling, Shull told audience members, "I think you need to do more promotion of what you have here in this region.
"Wheeling has stories to tell that the whole nation should know," Shull commented. Those stories, she said, include accounts of the city's role in the formation of the state of West Virginia and accounts of prominent businesses and industries that flourished in Wheeling and supplied the nation with goods and services.
Heritage tourism functions as "another big lure for the future" and offers "another good justification for preserving your buildings," she commented.
Shull said studies indicate that 70 percent of travelers like heritage tourism sites and 40 percent of travelers define themselves as heritage tourists. These visitors are "truly interested in the uniqueness of the places they want to go," she said.
Noting that new initiatives have been launched to attract international visitors, Shull said heritage tourists go to more destinations and stay longer than other travelers. Among international tourists, she said, the top three interests are shopping, eating and seeing historic places.
"I think people are going to be lured more and more to these out-of-the-way places," she predicted, adding, "The Ohio Valley has a lot to offer in that regard."
Another online tool that the National Park Service offers is its Teaching With Historic Places program. With this resource, historic sites can be used by educators to "teach all kinds of subjects in the curriculum," she said.
"There is a tremendous need for getting our young people actively engaged in addressing issues in their communities," Shull commented.
The Teaching With Historic Places program features 140 online lesson plans that are "being used all over the world" and are being "tested over and over," she said.
"The lesson plans are in a standard format. All have activities that take students back to their home communities," Shull explained. Turning her attention locally, she remarked, "West Virginia Independence Hall would make an exciting lesson plan."
Showing a lesson plan for studying the U.S. Supreme Court's historic ruling on school desegregation in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, she said, "They (students) are learning from historic properties while learning about the American education system.
"They (the lesson plans) all use these primary documents as well as historic places. They all have activities that take children back to their home communities," she said, noting that suggested activities include service learning opportunities.
During her visit to West Virginia Independence Hall, Shull got a sneak peak of the historically accurate trompe l'oeil panels that are being installed on the walls of the National Historic Landmark's third-floor courtroom.
Master decorative artist John Canning, principal of Canning Studios in Cheshire, Conn., and his associate, David Riccio, have designed the panels based on historic images and evidence of the classical decorative artwork that graced the courtroom in the 19th century. ''We're really reconstructing what this courtroom looked like when it was first presented,'' Canning said.
Canning and Riccio were in the audience for Shull's presentation in the hall's lower-level theater while workers from Canning Studios continued to install the trompe l'oeil panels on the courtroom walls. The work, which is expected to be finished later this month, will include the placement of trompe l'oeil artwork on the courtroom ceiling.
Trompe l'oeil - a French phrase meaning ''deceive the eye'' - is an artistic technique in which imagery creates an optical illusion so that objects appear in three dimensions.