Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Finding Common Ground: Whole Places, New Possibilities 

12-09-2015 17:35

The year 1991 was a remarkable one for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, both at the national and local levels. It was a year of discovery, of connectivity, and of redefinition. Multiculturalism, environmental alliances, and agenda linkages became the passwords of the movement. Stirring speeches by conservationists, humanists, politicians, activists, and historians highlighted a year of open dialogue and debate.

During the Trust`s Midwest Regional Meeting in Toledo in mid-April of 1991 potential alliances and linkages became the focus of a miniconference developed to explore and strengthen the natural affinities between the preservation and environmental movements. Entitled "Common Ground: Managing Cultural and Natural Corridors," the two-day symposium delved into the larger issues of conservation and coalition. Drawing on the success of the previous year`s meeting in Minneapolis, which began this exploration in our region, the Toledo conference helped to unravel the complexities of gaining real "common ground" with the environmental movement. Indeed, the list of cosponsors of the meeting with the National Trust exemplified the potential for these alliances: the National Park Service, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, the Ohio Historical Society, Scenic America, the Ohio Preservation Alliance, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Landmarks Preservation Council, Metroparks District of the Toledo Area, the Maumee Valley Heritage Corridor Advisory Committee, the Wood County Park District, the Architects Society of Ohio, the Greater Toledo Office of Tourism and Conventions, the Women of the Old West End, the University of Toledo, and Ball State University. At the conclusion of the sessions the partnership between the movements seemed to have taken a leap forward

A case in point: The program council discussions, which coincidentally centered on developing common agendas with the environmental movement, brought forth a surprising array of conservation-oriented professionals--historians, planners, rails-to-trails activists, department of natural resources officials, Trust advisors and trustees, greenway enthusiasts, SHPOs, park directors, government officials, the media, preservationists of all sorts, and environmentalists of many branches. Together they exchanged project successes and failures, ideals, dreams, and losses. By the time the session drew to a close participants were jumping up from their seats, spontaneously introducing themselves, and arranging lunch dates with potential allies across the room. It was working. The excitement and fervor of unrealized linkages were flourishing.

The high quality of the speakers and their presentations was abetted by their enthusiasm. Preservationists spoke to environmentalists and vice versa. Both listened with rapt attention. There was a professional magic in the air that permeated the conference. Gerry Adelmann detailed his role as the "godfather" of the heritage corridor, Molly MacGregor illustrated the evolution of the Mississippi Headwaters project, Ohio`s innovative Little Miami Inc, river protection project was explained by its director, Eric Partee. Bill Spitzer of the National Park Service`s Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program regaled us with the realities of the federal system and its diverse programs. Sally Oldham shared her experience as a veteran of the preservation/conservation circuit. The exhilarating day-long session was capped by an evening lecture by Charles Little, whose book Greenways for America has become the bible of trail, greenway, and corridor advocates.

The educational sessions were followed by half-day laboratory tours of the historic Maumee Valley and its natural and cultural environs Three separate excursions--focusing on the historical, architectural, environmental, ethnic, industrial, and recreational resources of the valley--were launched on Saturday morning It rained, but that didn`t dampen the enthusiasm. A highly charged wrap-up session following the tours left everyone wanting more and affirmed the notion that common agendas and alliances are indeed powerful motivators of new and heretofore unthought-of coalitions

The impetus for the conference sprang from recent efforts to assess the Maumee Valley`s potential for corridor designation. The Maumee River, the largest of all Great Lakes rivers, flows northeasterly from Fort Wayne to Toledo, a distance of 150 miles. Its banks are endowed with some of the richest cultural and natural resources in the Midwest. They once were home to Ottawa, Shawnee, Potawatomi, Huron, Wyandot, and other Native Americans; they were the battleground of Indian, French, British, and American forces, a battleground eventually conquered by generals "Mad" Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and William Henry Harrison (later a U.S. president) at Fort Meigs at the expense of native peoples and their famed leaders, Blue Jacket, Tecumseh, and Pontiac; they were the proving grounds for legendary explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark and Zebulon Pike; they were the nursery of folk hero Johnny "Appleseed " Chapman; and they were the home of a superb assembly of urban and rural architecture. These and thousands more treasures and artifacts and events constitute the pageant of the Maumee Valley, one of the greatest of all natural highways in the Northwest Territories. The Maumee Valley corridor became an obvious laboratory for illustrating how common ground might be found.

In fact, efforts to have the Maumee River Valley designated as a national park date at least to the early 1930s, thereby ranking as one of the earliest attempts in the country to recognize the importance of corridor-type resources Although the bid for National Park status was unsuccessful, a number of natural/cultural alliances continued these endeavors, ultimately resulting in the designation of the Maumee Riveras a Scenic/Recreational River by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Ohio`s Scenic River Act was inaugurated in 1968 and amended in 1972 to include "wild and recreational" rivers. The Maumee designation in 1974 was the first to fall within the new recreational category that was combined with the scenic classification to cover most of the river`s Ohio length. Since 1968, seventeen rivers, for a total of 629 miles (fourth in the nation in number of miles), have been added to the state`s roster of wild, scenic, and recreational waterways, a number of which also are listed as National Wild and Scenic Rivers

The presentations of the conference are summarized in this issue of Forum. It was a true "coming together" for environmentalists and preservationist, a time for adherents of each movement to listen and to learn from the other, the swinging wide of a door that must be fully opened if the conservation interests in our nation are to exert a broad impact on the quality of our lives as we pass into a new millennium.

Publication Date: March/April 1992


Author(s):Ted J. Ligibel