DelawareAndLehigh.org has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top national heritage sites on the web. Below you'll find an interview with Elissa G. Thorne, Vice President of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Inc.
- What are some of the current online initiatives of the Delaware & Lehigh Corridor representatives?
Visitors find heritage-based recreational and educational experiences through our website. During the past year we added Facebook, two Twitter accounts to target partners and visitors, an online blog and switched to an online email newsletter. This is in addition to a dynamic custom interactive mapping tool we offer that utilizes GPS coordinates but is based in Google Maps. We also updated our store to allow online payments for membership, events and retail items.
- How have you structured the website to meet the varying needs of the different groups that use it, including tourists and preservationists, among others?
Recently, we updated the site to make information more accessible for different audiences. Color tabs on the homepage differentiate between partner and visitor info. Drop down menus and an events calendar were added. Additional in-house content management features were added via “Expression Engine”, our CMS.
- What resources are offered to help visitors understand their role in the preservation of the area? Why should someone become a D & L member?
In many cases, www.delawareandlehigh.org is the only website available where visitors can find authentic, historically accurate information about the heritage attractions within the D&L Corridor region. Some off the beaten path places and very small businesses have no other representation online.
Membership in the Delaware &Lehigh National Heritage Corridor should be a priority for anyone who is interested in the construction and sustainability of 165-mile “D&L Trail”. It follows the historic transportation path of anthracite coal from mine to market through eastern Pennsylvania. This single National Heritage Area is composed of five counties, four industrial cities, three rivers and two canals. Companion activities include conservation of the adjacent landscape and preservation of associated historic resources including eight National Historic Landmarks.
Day-in and day-out, no other organization focuses on these resources as a tool for 21st century economic development.
- Why is the trail an integral part of the Delaware & Lehigh Corridor history? What are the most popular points of interest along this trail?
The D&L Trail re-traces the path that anthracite coal once traveled from mine to market. This raw material helped to fuel America’s 19th century industrial revolution. The Trail travels along-side former and active rail lines, the Lehigh and Delaware Canals. It passes through pristine natural areas, as well as coal towns, canal towns, vibrant cities and preserved farmland as one journeys from Luzerne County to the north to Bucks County, located just outside of Philadelphia.
The most popular locations are within Lehigh Gorge State Park and Delaware Canal State Park. Interestingly, two adjacent historic communities have become destinations in their own right: Jim Thorpe and New Hope, Pennsylvania. The combination of state park, vibrant downtowns, services, restaurants, scenic qualities and cultural offerings like museums and live theater is the draw.
- What are some of the community programs offered through the D & L Corridor and how do they advance the Corridor’s mission?
The D&L offers technical services to partners and communities interested in interpreting and sustaining regional heritage assets. This is done through grants, outreach activities to develop volunteerism, educational programs, tourist promotion, trail design and construction, art projects and conservation initiatives.
Specifically, the Tales of the Towpath elementary school educational curriculum has brought our historic canals and the story of America’s industrial revolution to life through an illustrated children’s storybook, travelling trunks and audio book. A new animated website that will link to www.delawareandlehigh.org is in the works. The curriculum is in more than 50 regional middle schools.
In addition, more than 8,000 volunteers have participated in trail construction, restoration, maintenance and other events through the D&L Trail Tenders program.
- How can visitors navigate the area the Road Trip function? Why is this a valuable resource for both current and prospective visitors of the area?
The Road Trip function was designed so visitors can customize a tour of the region. With more and more people wanting to plan their own visit, this tool always the user create a tour tailored to a specific region or interest area. The “Add this Destination to Your Road Trip” button allows users to effortlessly add to their trip itinerary as they navigate the site rather than continually going back to itinerary page as on other sites.
- What features do you provide to help Pennsylvania residents and other visitors learn more about the historical importance of the Canal Corridor
The document library is chock-full of studies and plans, inventories, back issues of our newsletter and program guidelines. These resources are often accessed by municipalities, planning professional, historians and other looking for detailed information about the region.
Some of our interpretive signage panels are now available in pdf form on the website at their specific physical location. This provides historic background for specific sections of the trail to encourage use and provide historic context—ties the D&L Trail more directly to historic sites. See: http://www.delawareandlehigh.org/images/library/The_Placed_to_Be.pdf
- How has the D & L blog provided a communication portal between visitors and partners of the heritage area?
The blog is a mixture of personal diary, opinion and research. By allowing a forum for free-flowing thought we can communicate with our partners in more depth than through other online tools. It is a low cost way to promote seasonal events, report on past meetings and explore quirky approaches to touring the region (i.e The Beer Drinker’s Guide to the Corridor).
It is also a content-rich and frequently updated part of our website, which is a tremendous boost to our SEO strategy.
- How has social media allowed visitors to connect directly with the heritage area and the corridor corporation?
Social media has allowed us to combine a number of different online marketing tools to keep our visitor abreast of up-to-date information and important resources they may be interested in. In a moment’s notice, we can send out event reminders, legislative updates, notices about funding availability or news about fellow partners. It allows us to have conversations with our visitors, share insights and photographs. It is also a way for us to have “eyes” on the trail so we are alerted about problems, maintenance issues or vandalism.
- What else would you like to share with us about DelawareAndLehigh.org or the heritage area?
As a small organization (only 12 full-time employees), we would not be able to wade through the countless applications and technology advances without our partnerships with our regional convention and visitor bureaus as well as our agency, Scheffey Integrated Marketing. The complex nature of the heritage area concept, coupled with our large region and competitive markets make access to professional expertise essential. The continuous annual increase in traffic to our website tells us that we continue to serve as a valuable resource to our users (this year to date, we have seen a 50% increase in visits over the previous year).