State wants to promote heritage tourism

State wants to promote heritage tourism

BY TOM BALDWIN

New Jersey - with its boardwalks, beaches and blackjack - set out yesterday to understand why it has not sold itself as a history-rich destination as much as a good-time getaway, as have neighboring states from Massachusetts to Virginia.

"That is something we will hope to have answered," said Cate Litvack, who chaired the inaugural meeting of the New Jersey Heritage Tourism Task Force.

The task force is exploring ways New Jersey might develop the more sober draw of a Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, of Valley Forge outside Philadelphia or Mystic Seaport on the Connecticut coast.

The task force has two more public hearings, Nov. 1 in Jersey City and Nov. 13 in Salem.

"We have always had such a terrific tourism business at the Shore and the casinos," Litvack said. "We've neglected other types of tourism. What we should be doing is connecting these things."

"Heritage tourism is a proven economic engine," said Maia Farish, vice chairwoman of the New Jersey Historic Trust, who held up Massachusetts as a model.

She noted that in the Bay State, "Historic sites and the performing and visual arts and corporate meetings were all mentioned in the same sentence."

"What we haven't done as well is connecting these historic sites and their host communities in a co-hesive and thoughtful, heritage-tourism, destination-development and marketing program," said Farish.

Bonnie-Lynn Nadzeika, director of the Morris County Historical Society, told of visiting both sides of the Delaware River where George Washington's militia had crossed for the Battle of Trenton over Christmas of 1776, and where both states now maintain historic grounds.

She said New Jersey's state park at Washington Crossing - the name of both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey communities - stood almost vacant, while the historic site on Pennsylvania's Washington Crossing bustled.

The comparison is a tad unfair because the Pennsylvania side is not a park but a site maintained by a unique museum commission, not part of the parks system, while the Jersey facility is a state park.

"Pennsylvania is making a concerted effort to draw heritage-tourism visitors from New Jersey," Nadzeika said. " . . . Is there more history in Pennsylvania? Is their history somehow more important than ours?"

He did not testify, but former state Attorney General W. Cary Edwards possesses a feel for New Jersey history. "If you look at all of our historic riches, we don't have a central one. Philadelphia has the Liberty Bell and the city. New York, well, New York is just that, history. Tourists love to know about the history of New York. You don't have that focal point," Edwards said, adding one can be created.

"How do we overcome New York and Philadelphia? We do that by creating our own historic identity," Edwards said.

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Date Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2007 - 06:00