Those who have lived by it, worked on it or enjoyed its features have long adored the St. Croix River region.
Local volunteers have been working for years to make the region a National Heritage Area. In that process, a rather significant development occurred recently.
The National Park Service, which oversees the National Heritage Area program, approved the North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix National Heritage Area’s feasibility study last month after determining the plan meets all of its criteria.
“This is a major achievement,” said Bill Neuman, NWW Vice Chair.
He went on to explain the benefits of what it would mean.
“It’s having a national recognition for the significance of the region,” he said. “The economic development potential would make it hard to oppose because of the amount of visitors it would bring in.
“We’ve been working on this for at least 10 years. It’s not a fast process, but a thorough one.”
The proposed Heritage map would cover 18 counties between Minnesota and Wisconsin. On the Wisconsin side, it’s as far north as Solon Springs in Douglas County and stretches all the way to Prescott in Pierce County. On the Minnesota side, it’s as far north as Carlton County all the way to Prescott.
“We’ve gotten a lot of input,” Neuman said, from those communities within the map. Those communities have told their stories about how their life is impacted by the river.
Neuman said the NWW worked with a writing team at the National Park Service to illustrate “how best to tell our story.”
As according to their website, “travel within the Heritage Area provides opportunities to experience small historical communities and reignite your interest in a past where abundant wildlife and white pine forests fueled the fur trade and lumber industry for nearly 300 years – followed by dramatic migrations of people from the Atlantic Coast and immigrants from throughout Europe.”
The next step in the process is going to be one of the toughest – congressional approval. Neumann said Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin has drafted legislation to designate it as a Heritage Area. That’s just the first step.
“We need strong congressional support from the House and Senate on both sides of the river,” Neuman explained. “We’ve been talking to legislative staffs on a regular basis.”
If approval were granted, it would join 55 other designated National Heritage Areas in 34 states across the country. The closest ones are the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area in Iowa, the Northern Plains National Heritage Area in North Dakota and the Motor Cities National Heritage Area in Michigan.
“We continue to be optimistic,” Neuman concluded. “We’ve got good people helping us.”
For more information, one can visit northwoodsandwaters.org.