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The Common Waters Partnership has been awarded a $6,000 grant from the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative for the upper Delaware River region to implement a plan supporting economic development through arts, culture, heritage and natural resources.

To improve the connection between local communities and the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, the Common Waters Partnership sent a diverse team of local leaders, land managers as well as tourism and community arts representatives to participate in a three-day program earlier this year. The Appalachian Gateway Communities Regional Workshops focused on helping communities spark economic development while maintaining and enhancing their quality of life. The workshops drew participants from communities extending from Alabama to New York. Participants engaged in action-planning exercises designed to identify the unique Appalachian characteristics that make their communities appealing places to live, work and recreate.

Working with national and regional experts on sustainable tourism, economic development, the arts, natural and cultural resources, transportation and branding, the Common Waters team crafted a project entitled “Confluence” that aims to enhance tourism to the Delaware River watershed region by collecting and sharing stories from local cultural entrepreneurs such as artisans, artists, writers, natural resource specialists, farmers, stonemasons, musicians, and chefs.

Excerpts of interviews will be pinned to an interactive digital mapping website that can be used by visitors and residents alike to listen to the people of our area speak about why and how where they live is important to what they make. Nine interviews will be debuted at a public celebration in Fall 2014. The event will also include presentations exploring the intersection of tourism, identity, arts, culture, heritage and natural resources.

“Confluence” will gather stories first in one town—Hawley—as it is considered a “transitional” economic area in the Appalachian region. The project, however, hopes to visit many other watershed towns and hamlets in the region to “catch stories” there as well. The project has received support from the National Park Service, the Sullivan County Visitors Association, and the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, among other organizations and is being implemented by B-Trads (Beautiful Traditions): Community Arts Integration.

“Sullivan County is already working to bring the project to the communities on the New York side of the river to start forming regional connections,” explains Laura Moran of B-Trads.

The workshops and accompanying seed grants were made possible by the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative, a partnership of the Appalachian Regional Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Conservation Fund, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The partnership was established to help Appalachian gateway communities build thriving economies while protecting and conserving their precious natural and cultural heritage qualities and strengthening the overall quality of life. Fourteen teams participated in the workshops; nine teams were awarded seed grants totaling $60,000 to carry out their on-the-ground plans.

“The Common Waters partnership was an ideal candidate for an Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative seed grant because it demonstrated a clear need with a proposed project that is well-crafted, achievable, and designed to address the need,” said Kris Hoellen, vice president of sustainable programs at The Conservation Fund. “The project’s potential for both expanding and diversifying access to the artistic, cultural and natural heritage of the area will help to strengthen the community and spark sustainable economic development.”

The Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative was developed by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007. The Gateway Initiative has helped gateway communities across Appalachia expand tourism and other economic development opportunities through community assessments, tourism planning workshops and grants for project implementation. The Conservation Fund and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have partnered to strengthen the leadership capacity of towns, cities and communities that neighbor publicly protected natural and recreational lands in distressed, transitional or at-risk counties.

The regional workshops were held this winter at the Heartwood Center in Abingdon, Virginia, and at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.