Storytelling, quarterly Back Roads guide among new Historic Bluff Country initiatives
Wednesday, April 04, 2012 5:25 AM
Mary Jo Dathe of the Spring Valley Historical Society channeled the spirit of Angeline Wilder during the 27th annual meeting of Southeastern Minnesota Historic Bluff Country, Inc., Thursday in Rushford.
The following non-confidential traffic and criminal cases from 3/13 to 3/19/12 were compiled from reports released from the Fillmore County Court Administrator's office.
Angeline Wilder, a former Spring Valley resident, is mother of Almanzo Wilder who married famous author Laura Ingalls in 1885. Dressed in an outfit similar to one that Angeline might have worn when she lived in Spring Valley, Dathe brought local history to life during her performance as she talked about the Wilder family and its connections to Spring Valley as well as the impact of the two railroad lines on the community in the late 1800s and the origins of many local buildings, which are now historic landmarks.
Not only did the performance give Dathe a chance to highlight the history of Spring Valley, it gave the more than 25 members of the Bluff Country organization present at the annual meeting a chance to see how the Storytelling Project is coming along. The project is one of several new initiatives Bluff Country is undertaking as it tries to revive the organization.
The past year has been a tough one for the region's tourism organization. Like many non-profit organizations in the United States, it had funding cut. Also, it lost significant membership as there were some administrative problems that came to a head.
Interim administrator Val Gaddis told the membership that the organization lost funding from a scenic byways grant that essentially paid for all the administrative costs of Bluff Country. She has been serving as a volunteer to keep the organization going since the previous administrator was terminated last fall.
The scenic byways grant was discontinued in 2010 due to federal cutbacks. The entire program is being cut and one member noted that the national office located in Duluth will be closed in June.
The group has also lost more than half its membership, which has "added to our stress," Gaddis told the membership. However, since the beginning of the year, the group has been gaining new members and municipality memberships as she has started actively speaking to groups about the importance of Historic Bluff Country.
The organization was without a home after it had to leave its headquarters in Harmony and the previous administrator worked out of her residence. However, following the annual meeting in 2010, the Rushford Economic Development Authority approached the board and offered a one-year grant to locate in a building in Rushford. The new office is located across the street from Stumpy's, the restaurant in which the annual meeting was held.
The group also continues to receive an Explore Minnesota Tourism grant, although that is significantly smaller than the other grant and there is always a chance it could end due to state budget difficulties.
"In the future, the membership end of it will become much more important because grants are going away," said Gaddis.
In addition to the Storytelling Project, the organization also changed the Back Roads printed guide to a quarterly publication. This will allow changes in each issue with the hope that more visitors pick it up because it will be fresh every quarter. The quarterly publication also allows members to join any time of the year and have their names listed in the next issue of the publication. Another advantage is that the calendar is more up to date as some events change from the time they are listed in an annual publication.
The issues are highlighting some of the stories from the Storytelling Project. The first issue included stories from Spring Valley and La Crescent, the first two communities to participate.
The group also has a redesigned website at www.bluffcountry.com, which is something members asked for in the survey sent out last year. Gaddis said she hopes to add self-guided walking tours in an audio format to the site. Another option is allowing pdf brochures from member businesses that visitors could download from the site.
Another change is that there is now an industrial and craftsmen membership for businesses that aren't tourism related. These members can be listed on the website for an extra fee and also have space in an auditorium behind the Bluff Country office to display items from their businesses.
Gaddis said that she hopes visitors viewing the displays see the vitality and inventiveness in Bluff Country and at some point may choose to move their business or relocate their family to the area.
In the business portion of the meeting, the membership voted in a slight increase in fees to join Bluff Country. The bylaws were also amended to reflect the new administration, which will mostly be by contract rather than a paid position. Committees for membership, marketing, finance and bylaws were set up.
The budget approved reflected the greater reliance on membership dues. One member asked if that was realistic, and Gaddis replied that they are going to push membership this year. She also pointed out that the figures are based on the numbers from about a year ago, when the organization had more than 100 members.
Another member pointed out that he would like to see increased communications. He felt that members often didn't know what was going on within the organization, and could be a reason for declining membership.
The board was also set. New members are Chris Hallum of Rushford and Dave Phillips of Spring Valley. Hallum will act as treasurer, replacing Gaddis, who stepped down because she may continue to provide some administrative duties in the future under a contract once the group's finances improve. Morgan remains president and Eilene Krenz remains as secretary.
Editor's note: Dave Phillips, who wrote this story, attended the meeting as an observer and had no intention of joining the board. However, he accepted the position at the end of the meeting when he was nominated by the current secretary.