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All Aboard

I’m ‘All Aboard’…

…and I was all along. I just didn’t find out until this week.

I had a chance to talk to Trisha Sewell of the Cactus Corridor Economic Development Corporation yesterday, which was very productive. That led to a follow-up conversation this evening with Monica Knight, the consultant behind Shosholoza EDUtainment.

The first thing I need to say is that I’ve lived in rural areas long enough by now that I should have known to watch out for exaggeration from locals. Now that I’ve found out what the score is, I’m a bit embarrassed over my first impression.

The All Aboard initiative is not an attempt to force locals to transform Hanna into a Railtown (an unfortunate local misconception). A survey was done in the past and it turned out that the most common history people identify with in town is a rail history, which makes sense given that the town was more or less born of the Canadian Northern Railway. It also seems to be where the majority of the volunteer effort is centered, and this is out of the passion locals have for that chunk of our past the initiative was created. The “All Aboard” name is an effort to help bring these people together and get them the resources they need to work more efficiently. The name is also a nod to local history.

The outside consultant is not forcing any ideas on anyone. There are no flowery, yet useless reports being produced. She provides connections to subject matter experts elsewhere who can help (e.g. establishing the Ghost Walk), organization, and — most importantly — a fresh set of eyes. The problem with rural volunteer projects is that we develop the most wicked tunnel vision known to mankind. Sometimes it’s worth spending a few dollars to bring in someone not wearing a local pair of blinders. Saves a LOT of money over the long run.

So, I had it wrong, and now that I have all of the facts I’m actually pretty impressed with what I’ve seen of local tourism strategy. Especially after attending this past weekend’s CN Retiree Railroader’s Reunion at Hanna’s Roundhouse (story and photos in an upcoming post). There is a small handful of people accomplishing amazing things with such limited resources that it’s a wonder they haven’t gone bugnutz crazy. I think it says something about a town that you’ve lived in it for a year and you can still be blown away because it turned out to be even more awesome than you originally thought. (Seriously, if you don’t live here, you should be considering it.)

The one thing I would recommend is that the various folks involved in local tourism put a bit more effort into promoting what they’re doing. First, wonderful works are being performed and they deserve recognition. Second, you can’t leave a hole without someone filling it in, and as any urban planner can tell you there is always someone who sneaks in after dark with dirty fill. Which is how I got bad information. An improved online communication strategy would work wonders here.

That last part I can help with. Anyone need some Web redesign? 🙂

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