Gullah-Geechee corridor needs input for next step

September 25, 2010 

The Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor has reached an important milestone.

Much has been accomplished since 2006, when Congress designated a 340-mile stretch of coastline from Wilmington, N.C., south to Jacksonville, Fla., as the only national heritage area that focuses on a distinct African-American population.

A commission was established, and the National Park Service helped manage its deliberative and public process of framing a vision, mission and purpose for this very good idea. Its stated purpose is to recognize and sustain the important contributions made to American culture and history by African-Americans known as the Gullah or Geechee, who settled in coastal counties such as Beaufort County. The commission's mission is to assist other governments and private entities in interpreting this remarkable story and preserving the Gullah folklore, arts, crafts and music. It also is charged with helping identify and preserve sites, historic data, artifacts and objects associated with the Gullah culture for the benefit and education of the public.

Now, we're getting down to the nitty-gritty.

The milestone reached this month is publication of three preliminary alternatives for future management of the heritage corridor.

One alternative is not acceptable. That is the status quo.

The two other alternatives include many good suggestions.

Alternative B "focuses on strategies designed to document and archive the history and resources of the corridor, promote community-based participatory research and community training opportunities, and share Gullah history and resources with the Gullah community, residents, visitors and scholars."

Ideas include a research institute or institutes, conferences, a speakers bureau, archives, mapping, a list of most endangered Gullah sites, and documentation of threatened and significant Gullah resources.

Alternative C goes further, focusing "on strategies designed to educate residents and visitors -- particularly the youth; enhance economic opportunities; protect natural resources; and perpetuate traditional skills, arts, and crafts."

Ideas include developing a heritage tourism plan to assist in organizing, promoting and marketing sites, festivals and local businesses.

Commission chairman Emory Campbell of Hilton Head Island notes that an ultimate corridor management plan could include elements of more than one of the preliminary alternatives.

Before the commission selects a preferred alternative in November, it needs and it is seeking public input.

A 12-page summary of the heritage corridor, with details on the management alternatives, can be found at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/GUGENewsletter2. The website also offers a way to make comments.

In the end, the management plan should be focused and practical. It would be a mistake to try to be all things to all people or to over-reach and thus get nothing substantial done. The corridor, and the stories it has to tell, are too important to the nation and region to let that happen.

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