Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Fallacy of Trading Sense of Place for Density

In May of 1989 I accepted an offer to relocate to Durham, North Carolina and jumpstart the community’s destination marketing organization.

It was clear during my interview visit that Durham had good bones as well as deeply held traits and values that would be appealing visitors.

By good bones, I mean that many of its indigenous, core commercial districts retained the smaller, people scale, historical blocks of buildings that a majority of travelers are drawn to because they reflect a distinctive sense of place.

This is the “there” there of a particular place that so very many places long ago surrendered. 

It is a term that was coined in the 1930s by Gertrude Stein that over time has come to describe anywhere that “sense of character or coherence has eroded,” as so eloquently noted by Scott Russell Sanders in his essay The Geography of Somewhere.

Of course there is a lot more to having a “there” there than just architectural setting.

It was also clear back then that Durham had given in every now and then to the temptation during the 80s to throw up a skyscraper or two, as it is currently doing.

But different than those prior to WWII, apparently both developers and local officials (as illustrated by their own buildings) have forgotten a crucial tenet noted by Witold Rybczyski in How Architecture Works.

New buildings, according to Rybcyski (Rib-chin-ski,) a noted architect, professor, critic and author, should foremost seek coherence with place and setting.TrustBuilding_pcard

When I mentioned a need for “coherence” to an official during deliberations for this newest and tallest building underway in Durham, I received only a look of bewilderment and something mumbled about the need for density.

More on density that later but studies show that, too, is a fallacy when used as a justification for towering structures that violate sense of place.

At year-end I will be seven years retired from that career, but last week the staff there invited me a personal tour of the new headquarters for the organization I led for 21 years in Durham.

Including the ground floor Durham Visitor Info Center, it occupies the first two floors of the six story 1905 Trust Building, Durham’s first skyscraper and one perfectly coherent with place.

It was the tallest building in the state when it was erected.  It also had the first elevator in Durham and was a little more than twice the height of surrounding buildings.

There is no record of controversy at the time but there is evidence three years later when the 47-story Singer Building opened in New York as the tallest building in the world that these structures were taking a toll on sense of place.

For several decades people had complained of the canyons these buildings created, along with the wind tunnel effect and the deep shadows they cast shortening the amount of daylight for blocks in at a time.

Now, 100 years after Jane Jacobs published launched a conversation in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a new study across a wide range of metrics finds that blocks of older, smaller builders perform better than districts with larger, newer structures.

By comparison, these blocks generate more jobs per square foot, a greater diversity of businesses, more non-chain local businesses, more small business vitality and greater density, more character, walkability and a broader socio-economic residential mix.

The answer isn’t either/or.  It is about mix, fit and especially coherence.

Communities that have surrendered to forces who told them they had to sell out their sense of place in order to be major league still have pockets or fragments they can salvage.

Communities such as Durham that turned the corner with sense of place in tact but may be unprepared for how quickly out of town “buyer/flippers” as well as franchise architecture developer/lenders can hollow out sense of place.

They may need to shift gears even more quickly.

Reading this study is a good start.   Begin by dissuading planners and officials of any notion that coherence of place must be sacrificed for density.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Lessons From An Era’s Promise Unfulfilled

The rumble of our more than thirty year old inboard when it fires to life in our runabout most weekends is a reminder of my own passing into “vintage” years.

Not only because starting up at all, regardless of how well maintained, should never be taken for granted after all these years, but because the powerful 4-cylinder's technology actually dates to the early 1970s.

Coincidentally, that was when I was first cutting my teeth on what became a lifelong career in community destination marketing.

The early 1970s was an era, such as now, filled with transformational promise in that field.

So during frequent guest lectures for today’s college students in destination marketing I encourage them to look back at what they can learn.

In fact, the lessons I hope they will glean might help them understand why so many destination marketing organizations (DMOs) today still function much as they did in the late 1960s/early 1970s albeit under a thin veneer of “digital window dressing.”

Let me touch very briefly on two huge paradigm shifts that gave so much promise and opportunity to DMO execs as the 1970s opened up.

One involved the emergence of a new technology for marketing intelligence and the other dealt with the near simultaneous rise of a range of nationwide sense of place policies.

In the late 1960s while unwrapping for airlines why some people were resistant to flying, Dr. Stanley Plog developed a data model for understanding, segmenting and then appealing to travelers based on the type of leisure destinations that fit their travel interests.1985-century-boats-mustang-jjxxlx

This had the effect of making accessible the vastly greater tourism potential beyond the 10% or so related to conventions and meetings that had been the limited focus of nearly every destination for the previous seven decades.

At virtually the same time, a range of national sense-of-place policies were rapidly beginning to transform communities.

In the wake of 1960s battles that brought disrepute to urban renewal/destruction to make way for mega-facilities such as convention centers, a slate of new policies greeted the 1970s.

Instead, they were intended to make communities more appealing by fostering historic preservation, waterway restoration, natural area protection, cultural endowment and highway beautification by eliminating sign and billboard blight.

Strategic thinkers christened the 1970s as an era when destination marketing, too, would broaden its approach.  Across the land many DMOs even added “and visitor” to their organizational names in anticipation, as did the professional association in 1974.

So what happened?  Why did most stop with just a change in nomenclature?

Why did so few 1970s era DMO execs grasp or embrace these lucrative shifts even as strategic foresights came to fruition?

Or for that matter, why did so few of those who they mentored in subsequent decades ever seem to move beyond the same 1960s style destination marketing?

Don’t get me wrong. There have been some significant strides in destination marketing since that time and there have always been best practitioners and strategic thought leaders.

Even the vast majority who have remained 1960s retro at their core typically try some new elements when they come along.

What is noteworthy, however, is that many often mistake a strategic change as something tactical, e.g. the Internet, and a tactical change as a strategy, e.g. social media and these elements always remain peripheral to a 1960s era core. 

We know now that as strategists projected in the early 1970s, by the early 1990s leisure travel overall eclipsed business travel (including conventions,) which both tipped into gradual, though turbulent, decline in the late 1980s.

Last month it was announced that even among the 9 or 10% of person-trips taken by Americans via commercial airlines, leisure trips have now eclipsed business/convention trips as the pre-eminent reason for US air travel.

And still, generation after generation among DMO execs remain stuck in the late 1960s throwing up look alike mega-facilities, then paying subsidies to get enough groups to fill them.

All of this while then proclaiming, seeming without any sense of irony as one did recently, that this dwindling segment is somehow “the heart of any major city.”

This sense of denial, too, dates to the 1960s.  When the first feasibility studies were conducted as prerequisites for public mega-facilities in the latter 1950s, they came back negative.

Proponents (not all of whom were DMOs) quickly learned the tactic of shopping for studies until they got what they wanted and then stoked hyperbole as justification.

Thus one I suspect was born the “the heart of any major city.”

But this introspection is not about shaming my generation of DMO execs or as you will read sparing myself.

There are several lessons for today’s DMO aspirants to take away from an examination of the failed hopes of the early 1970s if they are to ever hope to help destinations emerge from this quicksand in the future and go on to fulfill the promises of their own era:

First, it may be helpful to understand that in the field of destination marketing, we’re all shaped to a some extent, by the destinations we each have the honor to serve.

This includes the time period when we serve them and especially the foresight of each boards that governs the DMO during those particular spans.

A few people are quick to credit me with fulfilling the promise of that 1970s era but as I will explain, it is far more complicated than that.

Much of any credit goes not only to the nature of the three destinations I led but the unique time frames and especially the unusually farsighted and fearless boards who governed those DMOs during those spans.

I led the first during the 1970s.  I was a voracious reader and had the benefit of some strategic mentors, but it was all just starting to sink in when I moved on.  Within a few years that DMO was and remains, in essence, a 1960s model.

Together with the board, I definitely took the second destination to a fulfillment of the 1970s era promise over stiff opposition from 1960s stalwarts.  Once I moved on though, and the board rotated, it all but reverted to a 1960s model.

It is probably from my third and final destination that any reputation for fulfilling that 1970s era promise is more deserved, but there were always a handful trying to pull us back to the 1960s.

Long after I’ve retired, the destination perseveres but regression is always a threat I’m sure.

So as far as my own record goes, batting .300 is pretty good if I were hitting fastballs or 3-pointers, I guess, but just so so measured against the promise of we felt inspired to accomplish when I started my DMO career in the 1970s. 

Frankly, had I not been the beneficiary of being in these three places when I was, given my nature, it is doubtful I would have been drawn to make destination marketing a career.

Another take-away from examining why more DMO execs didn’t rise to the promise of that 1970s era is that there is an incredible inertia that traps tourism in general in its 1960s past.

In part, this inertia is fostered by at least four conditions:

  1. A “circle the wagons” mentality when it comes to change, reflection on the past or even introspection such as this.
  2. A powerful industrial complex of entrenched interest groups, feasibility consultants, developers and old-school elected officials.
  3. An impatience with discussing concepts, ideas and anything controversial which stymies strategic thinking.
  4. A stubbornness or failure to grasp the importance of improvements to nomenclature, e.g. referring to tourism as an industry instead of a sector (which is a combination of many industries such as lodging, transportation, foodservice, entertainment etc.)

There are many other strategic lessons to be learned by looking back at that earlier 1970s era not the least of which is the importance of seeking out those DMO execs today whose DNA traces back to 1970s era execs that somehow, someway, were able to realize some of its promise.

Destination marketing, at its very essence, is about differentiation and that includes, among others, strategic differentiation, marketing differentiation and destination differentiation.

But it all begins with a broader understanding of the arc of where destination marketing has been, where it could have and should have been as well as where it should go in the future to remain relevant.

Few of us in that 1970s era could piece together a picture of the sweeping changes that were underway like we can by looking back in hindsight.

Even strategic thinkers at the time were not connecting the dots for us and maybe that is one of the lessons for students to take away that will help them pull so many DMOs out of the 1960s quicksand and leapfrog to this era’s transformational promise.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Unlikely Origin of Tourism’s Sense of Authenticity

Reaching back to a tent restaurant erected there in 1919, Lexington brands itself, at least in part, the “barbecue capital” of North Carolina, a state with considerable heritage in that regard.

But it was a tragic train accident eight years earlier that occurred between that would-be tent site and what is now High Rock Lake that is more symbolic for tourism historically across the nation.

My Tar Heel Roots go back to 1650 but because I am the last of a line of five generations of Idaho ranchers going back to the 1860s and didn’t make my way to North Carolina until 1989, I’m considered “adopted” by those who could be considered far more relative “newbies.”

But it seems that wherever I’ve lived, including my native Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho, I’ve crossed paths with William F. Cody.  It was least expected here in North Carolina as I began what would be the last half of a four decade career in community destination marketing.

When a freight train tragically smashed into one of three trains near Lexington, Cody’s “Buffalo Bill Wild West Show”s (sometimes known by other names) was in the midst of 40 performances throughout North Carolina between 1878 and 1916, including two in Durham where we live.

Over 100 horses were killed in the accident, and the vitality of the show that had also performed hundreds of times throughout the country and throughout Europe would never really recover.

But it is easily arguable that no other person did more to instill a curiosity for transcontinental travel across the United States in both Americans and those overseas.

His attention to detail and authenticity informed expectations. 

Equally significant, Cody redefined and instilled a deep appreciation for history, culture and artifacts among those living in relatively newly settled lands east of the Hundredth Meridian.

He seemed to innately grasp what place branding expert Bill Baker tries to impart wherever he is invited to teach.

The brand of a particular place is, in essence, its innate personality.  It exists at the intersection of what internal audiences and external audiences perceive it to be.

Today, more than ever, it is not something you conjure up or create, it’s simple who and what you genuinely are, something Cody understood was far more appealing than fantasy.

In a moment I will share a story or two about how Cody’s influence has helped shape the negotiation of authenticity over the decades about what it is and isn’t western, a negotiation still underway.

But first, for anyone unfamiliar or in need of a very quick refresher:

Cody was born in Iowa in 1846; the year after my ancestors began fleeing across the southern half of that soon-to-be state toward sanctuary in the Rockies.

Then his family moved to eastern Kansas where he lost his father.

At age 11 he worked as a rider carrying messages between drivers and workers on wagon trains before becoming a bullwhacker, then a trapper, miner and briefly a Pony Express Rider.

He enlisted in the Union Cavalry and after the war worked as a buffalo hunter for the railroad.  Cody then became a Chief of Scouts for the 5th U.S. Cavalry, leading the rescue of Wild Bill Hickok.

Eventually, he earned the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars.

Cody became a public figure and the subject of dime novels as well as outspoken about the rights of Native Americans.  In addition, he became a performer and show producer.

As a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, Cody was also instrumental in the nation’s first national forest and the national reclamation act.

The best way to get a sense of William F. Cody is to visit his namesake along the Absaroka Mountains in northern Wyoming as they give way to the Bighorn.

Cody, Wyoming is the eastern and to many the most scenic and least touristy gateway to Yellowstone Park.  It is also home to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which is comprised of four museums including one devoted to Bill Cody’s story as well as a research library.

The little town is also home to the still operating Irma Hotel which Cody co-founded a year after that train wreck back in North Carolina. 

He began by acquiring and then expanding the T E Ranch up the more secluded South Fork from Cody in 1895 and then built a hunting lodge up on the North Fork where the road now leads to Yellowstone since the dam was built.

But Cody first saw the potential of this area in 1870 while leading a scientific expedition up the Bighorn.  It happened to be the same year an expedition was being led to examine the potential of Yellowstone.

Until then, exploration of river valleys along the Rockies such as the Henry’s Fork where my ancestors would settle were dismissive of any settlement potential.  But fresh eyes such as Cody’s changed all of that.

William F. Cody had a sense of authenticity that has inspired 150 years of nomenclature about the old West and is preserved today in details and artifacts such as clothing and dress and speech.

His shows inspired audiences to travel and to know what to expect.  They also helped negotiate what experts call the ongoing interplay and socially-agreed upon construct that we designate as authentic.

Tourism faces much courser fault lines than just authenticity today.  Take for instance, the one that exists between commercial hucksterism and genuine sense of place.

The West does too, and not just recently with standoffs by a few militants in Nevada and Oregon.

In 1939, a movement anchored in the Sheridan Rotary Club began with a threat to secede and break off northern Wyoming including Cody and Yellowstone into the State of Absoroka.

The frustration back then, as it had been during the “range wars” 50 years earlier was more about intrastate politics with the federal policies as a surrogate.

But as it does today, another fault line separated the views of preservationist northwestern and fossil-fuel driven northeastern Wyoming.

I thought of this on a cross country trip through my homeland a few years ago while listening to a story on the radio far more reflective of the West in which I grew up.

A rancher down on the South Fork, near Cody’s T E ranch, was out irrigating his hay fields in June of 2013 when he accidentally came between a Grizzly and her cubs.

Watch this very short video of this remarkable account and listen carefully to Nic Patrick’s remarks at the end.

If you are a regular reader, you may recall that my great-great-great grandfather, Thomas B. Graham, was killed in 1864 by a Grizzly in Cache Valley, Utah under similar circumstances, after having put his rifle down to help my great-great grandfather load some wood.

Like many ranchers, Patrick is a conservationist.  Also like many ranchers, he has another occupation.  For nearly forty years, he and his family have built authentic log homes, often for people who are drawn to live a version of the life Bill Cody depicted.

He understands something that William F. Cody came to understand during his lifetime.

Tourism can help preserve nature and the things it loves.  But unmanaged tourism can also often introduce changes that can kill the very the things it loves.

A lot is written today about gentrification of historic neighborhoods.  If well-managed so that socio-economic diversity is preserved, it isn’t a problem.  If not, the very soul of those neighborhoods and the reasons they became so popular is rapidly hollowed out.

However, gentrification can also occur in areas of the West around public lands.   Studies show that for both kinds of gentrification, tourism popularity can provide warning signals to policy makers that they need to instill protections.

Unfortunately, tourism circles today have far too few Buffalo Bill Cody’s.  Instead of being willing to debate the broader issues society faces, they are prone instead to circle the wagons.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Legendary Journey

From a vista in the center of San Francisco known as Twin Peaks, you can look down on a spot in the Mission District with the Bay glimmering to the east.

For a few years in the early 1860s this was known as Camp Alert, a race track-turned-Union Cavalry training facility.

I’ve always wondered how Thomas K. Messersmith, one of my maternal great-great grandfathers, who was a fourth-generation Southerner and native Missourian came to enlist to fight for the Union and train there, so far from home.

Tracing genealogy is a journey, often beginning by tracking down documentation for family legends.  But even when found, each revelation usually still leaves a loose end or two, that once tied open yet another revelation.

By the 1860 census, my great-great grandfather, a few weeks shy of 26 years old, was bunking with two other miners who were well into their 30s, T.H. Wilson from Virginia and N.F. Scott from Maryland.

They were living in a boarding house in Virginia City, Nevada which was then a part of Utah Territory and the site of the Comstock silver discovery only a few months earlier.

I doubt he came out to the California Gold Rush a decade earlier because the census then shows him still at home in Missouri.

But Virginia City had not only been named by Southerners, it was a hotbed at the time for secessionists who were gloating at having defeated a proposal for statehood because it included a prohibition of slavery.

My great-great grandfather had somehow formed a friendship with Samuel Clemens, who was a year younger and yet to adopt his famous pen name “Mark Twain,”

Because they were born and raised in very different parts of Missouri, I suspect they had formed a bond once Twain arrived in Virginia City with his brother, probably as much over as shared prowess for playing cards as briefly sharing a mining claim.

These fragments can be pieced together from references in collections of Twain’s letters from that time, which also confirm that my great-great grandfather would often be referred to be “Smith,” a truncation of his last name, Messersmith, just as my great-grandfather Ralph would later do.

This discredits another family legend that the truncation was the result of discrimination during World War I. 

My great-great grandfather gave up on mining around the time he crossed paths with Twain or shortly thereafter and headed up and over the Sierra Nevada’s and down to Stockton to enlist for the Union on October 3, 1861.

Interestingly, Twain had already served a two week stint with a Confederate militia back in Missouri and still had Southern sympathies at the time.

This and the dissention back in their home state must have led to some interesting conversations between the two Missourians.

The California into which my great-great grandfather rode had been in deep turmoil since a deep spit the year before in the Democratic Party, which had resulted in the election of President Abraham Lincoln with just a third of the vote.

Rampant secessionist conspiracies had compromised local militias and more than a few law enforcement official, especially in Southern California, leading to public demonstrations by both sides.

At the same time, regular Union Army units were being withdrawn to the east and several new Union regiments of California Volunteers were being enlisted to protect communications and critical ore shipments needed to fund the war effort from sabotage and attack.

My great-great grandfather made a conscious decision which to my prior understanding was contrary to his both native state and his friends.

But digging further I have learned that it was me that was very much misinformed.

It took me a while to track down that he initially enlisted in Company A of the Third Regiment which was an Infantry unit, but that didn’t jive with family legend that he was Cavalry.

Nor did the date of that unit’s arrival in Salt Lake and its various assignments align with the date and place he eventually mustered out of the army at the end of his tour.

Finally, I found a small reference in one military citation that read, “see Company L Second Regiment Cavalry.”

After being outfitted at the Benicia Arsenal, he may or may not have participated with Company A in the Bald Hills uprising that ended at Fort Baker before being transferring to Cavalry.

It is more probable that he was moved to Cavalry training in San Francisco almost immediately.

A hint is provided in one of Twain’s letters, dated May 17, 1862, where he asks another friend to send a pair of Spanish spurs hanging back in his office out to my great-great grandfather.

Between late that summer and early fall, with Cavalry training at Camp Alert behind him, at least a part of my great-great grandfather’s company in detachment with another had joined Col. Patrick Conner in Stockton.

From there, along with 1,000 other Cavalry and Infantry, they moved in phases over the Sierra Nevada’s and out into the Great Basin along the Overland Trail.

They rode first to Fort Churchill about 30 miles east of Virginia City and then proceeded on to secure Fort Ruby, near, coincidentally, where two other of my great-grandparents would drive stagecoach a few decades later.

Eventually, they based at Camp Douglas (later re-named Fort Douglas,) a newly created installation on a bench of the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City, where, again coincidentally, my father would be inducted into the army during WWII.

From there, my great-great grandfather’s Cavalry company would deploy to protect wagon routes in mountain valleys to the west where they were under constant attack.

This was all during the period when the Pony Express was phasing out and the first Transcontinental Telegraph was being completed along a major freighting corridor to the east carrying bullion and supplies for the war effort.

It is hard to relate just how broadly and intensely these facilities were under attack during the Civil War from warring bands of Paiutes and Shoshone-Bannock peoples, stretching in a “T” up the Upper Snake River Valley to what would become my birthplace eight decades later.

So I will insert this link as background.

Because so much of the family legend surrounding my great-great grandfather’s Union Cavalry experience has now been documented, I have no doubt that one day I will find verification of another part.

As the story has been passed down, the scar through his trademark mustache was the result of deflecting a Shoshone arrow that would have struck Colonel Connor.

My initial skepticism, at least of this particular hand-me-down family legend, has repeatedly proven groundless so far.

When digging into family history it helps to remember that legends are traditional stories regarded as historical but unauthenticated, usually because those details have been lost as the stories were passed down.

My great-great grandfather was notoriously quiet and solitary, spending weeks at a time herding sheep up into several of valleys along the Oquirrh Mountains where he had once patrolled near the end of his stint as a Cavalry trooper, including Rush Valley where attacks were especially frequent.

(Another, Cedar Valley, where he settled, is shown above.)

He became a Mormon and spent the remainder of his days alongside the very Overland Trail he had help protect as a means to hold the Union together never revealing what I now know of how he came to choose that side.

But in researching this blog, I think that has become clear.

Missouri, it turns out, may have had a very vocal population who had migrated from slaveholding states but by the time of the Civil War, while a neutral border state, it was firmly Unionist in sentiment.

It had its share of secessionist scheming.

But given the opportunity to vote for secessionist candidates to a convention, it overwhelmingly instead voted for Unionist representatives who voted 99-1 against secession and 70-23 against solidarity with Southern slave states.

Most telling about my great-great grandfather’s decision is that those fellow Missourians who enlisted to fight for the Union outnumbered those who enlisted to fight for the Confederacy by nearly 4-1 (110,000 to 30,000.)

Mystery solved at least for my great-great grandfather.

Unfortunately, far too many Americans are still fighting that war.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Origins of a Divide That Still Haunts Tourism Today

Once you turn off the country road toward our place on Mayo Lake there is a mile of gravel road before you reach the last stretch of pavement leading to our lakeside retreat.

It is what was called “macadam” when road surfaces in America first started to be improved in the 1820s (as depicted in the image below.) 

Many so-called paved roads in the countryside today are macadam bound together with a little asphalt tar.

By 1909, just as what is now called North Carolina Central University was founded, Durham, where we alternatively live a part of each week, was being heralded for already having laid 82 miles of macadam road.

Nationwide at the time, only 700 miles of road, about 10% of the total were as good or better than those in Durham.

By that year there were almost 306,000 cars and a few more than 6,000 trucks registered in America, up from 8,000 overall in less than a decade. 

Those known as “highway progressives” were already shifting the economic impact rationale for good roads from “farm to market” to “tourism.”

But ironically, roads had long been politically, as well as ideologically, controversial.

Other than military roads, Founding Father progressives on both sides of the isle, such as Washington and Jefferson, had only been able to push through the first “national road” along what is now I-40 as a means to open up western settlements for Revolutionary War veterans.

Conservatives argued that roads were too expensive and that they should be a state issue.

Then at the state level, such as in North Carolina, they were often able to pigeonhole roads as a county-by-county issue clear up until the eve of the Civil War.

It was about this time that pleasure driving/riding in carriages took hold, usually limited to grand city parks such as those created by Fredrick Law Olmsted or in cemeteries.

But in 1888 the re-invention of the pneumatic tire, which had been unsuccessfully introduced in 1846, galvanized a grass-roots coalition of activists to push for good roads.

The coalition was spearheaded by bicycle riders who teamed with “farmers, nature-lovers, conservationists and tourists” to spawn a national movement not only better roads but a national network of “hard-surfaced, all-weather roads.”

Soon they were joined by nascent automobile manufacturers.

The roads envisioned were a means to an end such as farm to market or home to resort but all roads were intended to be scenic along the way.

Then as the movement gained steam between 1911 and 1926 “highway progressives” were overwhelmed by commercial interests who coopted the movement.

It created a schizo-polarization of tourism that persists today.

At one end are those with a deep respect for sense of place, authenticity and scenic preservation. 

On the other is a hawker-huckster form frenetically enabling billboards, developer churn, mainstream mega-facilities and other forms of cookie-cutter architecture.

To overcome conservative opposition to a system of national roadways, “highway progressives” had begun to tout tourism as a rationale.

To enlist communities along proposed roadways they encouraged them to “manufacture” reasons for tourists to stop along these routes.

Rather than look to innate qualities, community boosters egged on by a chamber-of-commerce mentality fell instead for hyperbole, thus the manufacture of roadside amusements along with monikers such as the “Grand Canyon of the East” or the “Paris of the South.”

By 1930, many states, including North Carolina had begun to fight back against blight but the forces of blight this has fueled including a faction of tourism that had found political cover among a wing of conservatives.

This wing of conservatives, which cut across party lines, has consistently and inexplicably argued that blight is good for economic development, something still being repeated by a candidate running for governor in the last election.

Tourism, if it was more open to introspection as well as critical and strategic thinking would align in such a way that it could shift this paradigm.

But don’t hold your breath. 

It isn’t just that one side of the schizo-divide is somewhat superficial.  More problematic is that the other side lacks the moral courage and passion of those early “highway progressives.”

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Tracing The Influences of a Strategic Foresight

You wonder what was on the mind of North Carolina’s greatest entrepreneur in the last three decades of his life.

I suspect it was dirt.

By the 1930s, the Piedmont region of North Carolina had lost an average seven inches of soil to erosion, up to 18 inches in some places.

The reddish, sometimes yellowish, clay so prevalent now is actually a subsoil laid bare by this erosion according to historians such as Dr. Paul Sutter.

The effects of that erosion are clearly evident today.  It is why nearly all of our creeks, streams, rivers and lakes are muddy and will be, according to ecologists, for a thousand years.

A hundred years before we had “climate change deniers,” we had “erosion deniers.”  They, too, had policy makers who tried to outlaw science.

Deniers of both are still in office in some states today.

James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, who died in 1925 at age 69, would not have been among the latter nor were he alive today, the former I suspect.

Duke was eight and living with family in Greensboro during the chaotic end of the Civil War, as it was being negotiated near his home in Durham even as his recently released Confederate father, a Unionist, made his way back home.

He was 17 when his father moved their tobacco factory into town and just 21 when “Sons” was added to the name of the enterprise.  His father delegated manufacturing and marketing to Buck.

He is widely regarded today as the first genius in modern marketing.

But before relocating those four miles into Durham, Buck had earlier left the family farm during his teens first to attend what is now Guilford College in Greensboro.

But he soon left there to attend a business college called the Eastman National Business College, a school of business in Poughkeepsie, New York (the image at this link dates to his tenure there.)

He may have been the quintessential Tar Heel at the time, accent, chaw of tobacco and all, but uniquely for his time he also had formal business training including a curriculum that included practical experience to inform his innate entrepreneurial and strategic gifts.

At 24 he was made chief executive of his family’s business and opened a branch in New York.  Before he was 30 he took the company public.  By the time he turned 34, Buck Duke headed a trust that controlled 80% of tobacco production in the world.

In what we call today a SWOTs analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,) he was well aware that one of the biggest threats to his company came not from federal regulators but the soil depletion associated with growing cotton and tobacco.

At first tobacco had required fertile land.  But the weed-like varieties that yielded a much milder and more popular tobacco not only formed the basis of the Duke corporate empire but they grew on lands depleted by cotton.

But after a few years, even this tobacco wouldn’t grow without huge amounts of fertilizer, which became prevalent after the Civil War, as well as large quantities of water and eventually pesticides.

Still growing tobacco was leaving swaths of abandoned farm land unproductive because its topsoil had washed away.

Buck Duke did not know of tobacco’s harmfulness to health but he could readily see during his time that it was not good for the environment or future business.

With half of his life still ahead of him including new entrepreneurial pursuits in hydroelectric power and higher education in his home state, Duke bought a farm 45 miles west of New York City and assembled nearly 40 others, for a total of over 2,700 acres in all.

Northern New Jersey had been deforested for agriculture and charcoal by 1850, resulting in heavy erosion into the Raritan River adjacent to his land.

Any forest remnants that remained, here and there, were in poor condition.

Buck Duke foresaw by several years a call in 1896 by the state geologist for reforestation and protection of watersheds.  Primeval forests were extinct and nearly half of the state had been cleared of trees.

Forest fires were ravaging what remained to the south. half of them caused by sparks from locomotives.

Through much of his 40s, Buck Duke worked feverishly to recreate more of a nature area than an estate including excavating and/or rehabilitating, enhancing and connecting a chain of nine lakes and associated waterfalls.

All of this was protected by extensive reforestation of more than 2 million trees.

His vision, in the wake of deforestation, was to create a natural “wonderland,” but he also experimented with sustainable hydroelectric power there and methods to make both land and water more sustainable as well.

Within a few years, his work would be the inspiration for forest parks in New Jersey.

Coincidentally, this was the same period in which his father, Washington Duke, aided by other Durham leaders was busy relocating the 1830’s Trinity College to Durham as the foundation for what would later be renamed Duke University.

But rather than a retirement for Buck Duke, this period of creating what is called Duke Farms in north-central New Jersey was more of an entrepreneurial interlude to be inspired by his intrigue with hydrology and forestation.

It was also about this time that soil research became a national priority, including its indispensable role in life and its birth from forest.

The system Buck created with his natural restoration at the turn of the 19th century was designed to pump a million gallons of water per day from a canal above the Raritan River up to a reservoir.

From there the water was then controllably-released through gravity to flow successively down through nine excavated lakes and related waterfalls as well as restored meadows, lagoons and other wetlands before being reintroduced to the river much cleaner than when it was removed.

Lets just say that before he turned his attention a few years later, when not yet 50, to a startup back in his home state that would become Duke Energy today, Buck Duke knew what he was doing.

That experience through his 40s gave him an understanding of how to later rehabilitate thousands of acres of depleted farm land in his hometown of Durham by laying the groundwork near the end of his life for what would become Duke Forest as part of his transformation of Duke University.

Soil scientists estimate that in North Carolina where under virgin forest exists, it would take approximately 468,000 years to remove a topsoil layer, something that takes only a matter of minutes with today’s method of site preparation in advance of buildings.

Soil science is a discipline fathered as we know it today by another North Carolinian, Hugh Hammond Bennett.

But some who had previously also cut their teeth in North Carolina had been “erosion deniers,” as some policy makers are today.

Back then, evidence was mounting in some studies that would show that an average of 5.3 feet of topsoil sediment had discharged between 1820 and 1830 atop pre-settlement floodplains.

Ironically, many areas we consider treasured wetlands now were really created by these sediment avalanches.

As a ten year old, Bennett has been observing erosion on his family farm near Wadesboro at about the same time Duke was experimenting with how to prevent it as well as restore and protect polluted waterways.

Bennett was graduating from UNC and starting out his career by performing soil surveys in North Carolina counties in the two years before Duke returned to his native Tar Heel state.

One subsequent 1920 survey of Durham soils is filled with descriptions and information about Durham at the time Duke spent much of the last years of his life back here.

Based on a plan hatched in 1919, Buck Duke at the time of the survey was already buying up what would be 5,000 acres (today more than 7,000) of mostly depleted farmland in Durham dotted here and there by remnants of old growth forests.

But this was much more than what was needed for what are now Duke University’s West and Central campuses.

While much of the land he acquired would be reclaimed by forest, telltale gullies are visible today in the undergrowth, tombstones for an era of topsoil erosion.

Only today, the culprits behind that continued destruction are more likely to be mechanized site preparation for buildings which not only scrape off or crush fragile top soils but compact it so as to be impervious.

Most credit those acquisitions from 1919 through the early 1920s stretching across west and southwest Durham as well as west into Orange and eventually Alamance counties to Duke’s strategic sensibilities, a means that guaranteed access roads and water availability.

But his past experience suggests something even more strategic.

The School of Forestry created five years after Duke’s death is credited to William Preston Few, a longtime friend who was the university’s then president, along with a Forest Service veteran turned professor and researcher named Clarence Korstian, with the creation of Duke Forest.

Korstian had served in the United States Forest Service out West including a stint in the Pacific Northwest during the period of The Big Burn in 1910 before an assignment in the North Carolina Mountains.

He followed that with a stint at Yale before returning for a consulting assignment at Duke.

Few had spent a lot of time with Buck Duke, and while intrigued by Harvard Forest, in the mid-1920s he had recruited an ecologist named A.S. Pearse who was even more intrigued with the potential of the lands Duke had purchased.

Pearse connected Few with Korstian in 1927.  Buck Duke had died suddenly in late 1925 leaving behind one last stroke of entrepreneurial genius, a vast endowment so visionary it is as relevant today as it was then.

At his death, he was one of only 23 multimillionaires who had been born in the South, out of 331 nationwide.  But unique to others, he directed his philanthropy back to his roots.

It isn’t a leap to conclude that his influence was very present as Few, Pearse and Korstian envisioned Duke Forest.  Not at all.

If only shorter sighted policy makers in Durham today had the strategic sense of this earlier native son when it comes to the overall urban forest canopy.

Monday, February 29, 2016

North Carolina’s Earliest Post Progressives

Following the American Revolution and creation of a new system of government, North Carolina spent the first four or five decades of the 1800s under the control of regressives.

Before delving into the small but determined resistance to regressives during that period and what they would be able to eventually change, as well as a state icon they couldn’t in time, it may be helpful to explain what regressive means.

Philosophically, regressives differ from other conservatives because rather than just seeking to tap the brakes on what they see as unbridled progressivism, regressives actually seek to reverse progress.

Following the American Revolution, most were not among the third of North Carolinians still loyal to Great Britain or, of course, the 25% in bondage.

But regressives represented a faction that lobbied for a return to those pre-war values and ideals.

In the Tar Heel state, a slightly higher percentage were regressives than than those who were characterized as radicals or rioters because they wanted even more change.

Together, these two group narrowly outnumbered the remaining loyalists, most of whom would emigrate elsewhere.

Throughout the nation, as other states perpetuated the progressivism upon which America was founded, regressives in North Carolina during those early decades earned it a reputation as the “Rip Van Winkle” state.

As a result, land values plummeted as more than a third of North Carolinians moved away.

Between 1830 and 1840 alone, nearly half of the counties lost population according to a superbly documented book entitled, North Carolina Through Four Centuries.

The 1850 census revealed that 31% of all native North Carolinians still living in the United States resided in some other state.  Backwardness had driven away more than 400,000 Tar Heels, two-thirds of whom were white.

This was equivalent to half the state’s population in that census.

For the first half of the 1800s, the legislature was controlled by less than 10% of the population, including slave-holding planters living down east who were adamantly opposed to public education, roads, government in general and taxes.

Fast forward two hundred years.  Sound slightly familiar?

Between 2000 and 2010, half of North Carolina’s counties were again losing population with most relocating to the state’s more progressive cities.

Regressivism is as much a part of America as any other view, if not a bit ironic in a nation forged by progressives.  But it doesn’t take popularity for this view to seize control.

Because very few voters today are able to vote for the handful of legislators who are in control of setting legislative agendas in many states, including North Carolina, those decisions are also essentially controlled by about 10% of the electorate.

In part, it is an inherent flaw in representative democracy vs. more “popular” forms of democracy, but not perhaps, a view currently held by regressives who often seem to rationalize overriding the views of the majority of voters by insisting that the same would be done to them were they not in power.

Fueling this partisan view of “screw them before they screw you back,” is the fact that since 1998 “fewer than 10% of both state senate and state house seats have been competitive,” a factor driven by partisan gerrymandering of districts.

The thing to remember is that during much of that earlier period of regression following the Revolution, a handful of deeply concerned and resilient North Carolinians were persistently advocating progressive ideas, which following the Civil War, would put “the state on a totally new course.”

They were named Yancey, Caldwell, Fisher, Swain, Gaston, Morehead and Graham.

But their architect was Judge Archibald DeBow Murphey who was born in Red House, which is now called Semora, a crossroads just northwest of what is now Hyco Lake, a twin in Person County just west of Mayo Lake where we now split time with our home just south in Durham.

The area of Murphey’s origins is now a part of Caswell County, but when he was born it was a part of Orange County. 

Judge Murphey eventually practiced law down in Hillsborough a few miles west from what is now Durham and established a residence in Hawsfield (southwest of current-day Mebane.)

It was during this period that Murphey crafted his plan for North Carolina’s salvation including “establishment of a public education system, construction of canals and turnpike roads, as well as a general public welfare system,” and eventually railroads.

In fact, regardless of sympathies, North Carolinians weren’t paying much attention to succession leading up to the Civil War.

Instead they were focused on constitutional reform and a struggle over ad valorem taxes as a means for wealthy plantation owners to pay their fair share to fund Murphey’s vision.

Many of Durham’s founding generation were heavily influenced by Murphey’s strategic views including his close friends here, the Camerons.

They encouraged others in what would become Durham to push for statewide progress such as building railroads and a strong banking system.

Keep in mind by 1820, only 7% of Americans lived in cities and progressives such as Murphey saw a scalable role in development and progress for state government. 

There were only 61 settlements with more than 2,500 people in the whole country at the time and only five with more than 25,000 people so progressives such as Murphey were clearly farsighted.

But progressives at the time were not able to save the longleaf pine forests that provided North Carolinians their “tar heel” nickname as well as a species of our state tree.

In pre-settlement times, these savannah-like forests dominated a swath from northeast North Carolina in a strip that straddled the fall line between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain continuing in an arc down through the south all the way to Texas, 90 million acres in all.

These would have been the forests where my 8th great grandmother Mary Jane was born on Salmon Creek, more than three hundred years before I would uncover my North Carolina roots.

But from a time before North Carolina earned its “tar heel” nickname until the mid-1800s, these trees were used for naval stores or in other words tar, pitch, rosin and turpentine.

More than just shipping, it was the “wagon” industry that relied on grease produced from these distinct trees as well as uses for their wood by settlers, such as fencing.

Colonists would gird or strangle the trees to death while replacing the understory savannah grasses with corn and other crops as well as letting livestock such as hogs range wild.

Soon huge numbers of hogs, cattle, horses, mules, sheep and goats eventually trampled through these forests contributing to their demise while depleting the soil across much of North Carolina by 1900.

By 1920, the longleaf pine was virtually extinct. 

Gone were not only trees that take 100 to 150 years to reach full size (between 98 and 115 feet) and may live to be 500 years old, but gone too were seas of understory savannah grasses.

Environmental and science historians have placed nearly as much blame on these practices for the sediments that will muddy North Carolina’s streams, rivers and lakes for a thousand years, as they do on the farming practices used to raise cotton and tobacco.

Another factor is that we know now that our soils in the South are much more fragile than other parts of the country.

Fully two-thirds of the deforestation that has taken place across America over the last 400 years occurred during the sixty years between 1850 and 1910.

When a movement took hold to re-plant pine trees in North Carolina, short-leaf pines such as loblolly were used instead of longleaf pines because they grow faster, much closer together and don’t require ground fire to reproduce.

Since the 1960s when collectively pines were named North Carolina’s state tree, efforts have been underway to re-establish longleaf pines using prescribed fire along their base as well as protecting the tiny old growth stands that have been discovered.

But one thing is for sure, for now this means that North Carolina has a much different natural sense of place than it once had.

It is in the wake of this desecration that culminated in the early 1900s that another strategic wave of progressivism took hold in North Carolina, launching its mainstream status as a tourism destination.

More on that in the next post, including a fourth wave in the early 1970s that voters embedded in the constitution, something that legislators including regressives today choose to ignore.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Perspective About the Open Range

I’ve waited until the illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was behind us before responding to friends who have wondered what I thought about it because of my background.

I was born and spent my early years on ranchland that my great grandparents and grandparents had homesteaded as well as assembled, along the Henry’s Fork River in view of the Tetons.

But as the only son of an only son, I was also the end of 5 generations of Idaho ranchers in that line stretching back to the early 1860s when it was yet to emerge from what remained of Oregon Territory.

My dad and grandfather were true ranchers.  In rhetoric, they would have probably shared a few of the rational sentiments expressed during the occupation in Oregon.

But they would not have sympathized with the militants.

There have always been a few ranchers and “rancher-wanna-bees” in the West, who not only didn’t respect public property but didn’t respect any property that wasn’t their own, as illustrated by the way militants desecrated the property they occupied.

We often forget that the roots of private property have always been conditional.

My grandfather was famous even before I was of school age because he had fired a warning shot from a Winchester Model 1894 .32 WS Saddle-Ring Carbine that I still have hanging on my wall as an heirloom.

It was a Sunday morning and he had caught another rancher stealing water while others were in town attending Sunday School.  “Ne’er-do-wells, moochers and thieves” he would have called these recent militants.01624_s_aaeuyfyqe0025

He also had a respect for public lands and land managers that at least philosophically, had waned somewhat in my dad when he took over the ranch.

It probably didn’t help that in the early 1950s dad was once forced to admit to poaching a moose out of season, when his best friend, a rural mail carrier, had left his wallet behind.

Dad knew the two WWII were guilty but he had rationalized it by dismissing the importance of the regulations to sustainable wildlife and most of all he resented having to take the fall to preserve his friend’s federal government job.

But I remember dad suddenly slamming on the brakes to our Jeep one day as we crossed the Vernon Bridge on our way back from the courthouse in Saint Anthony and then sprinting down an embankment.

It was common to see my dad angry.  He was one of those people who seemed to express several different emotions that way, including fear, but I had never seen him about to come to blows until that day.

He had caught a neighboring rancher dumping trash in the river and came close to kicking this particular ne’er-do-well’s butt all the way up the embankment because of it.

But ironically, he would have probably complained if a government official had been doing the same thing he had done. 

To understand some of the controversy between ranchers and public lands’ managers, you have to understand a new breed of rancher that came along after 1936, four decades before termination of homesteading led to the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion.

But before I touch on what occured eight years ago, it may help to understand that up until the 1880s, even in states such as North Carolina where I’ve lived for nearly 40% of my life, laws about property were very different than they are today.

Up until that time, it was legal for other people to run their livestock on your land unless you fenced it in.  Everything was fair game unless it was fenced, pretty much the opposite of what it is today.

That began to change in North Carolina when in 1873 five counties, including one from which Durham, where I live, was carved eight years later, petitioned the General Assembly to pass legislation enabling local “no-fence” laws.

It was a movement that was not implemented statewide until 1958.

No-fence laws meant that instead of putting the onus on property owners to fence their land or be overrun by livestock, instead the owners of livestock were required to fence them in. 

But as this movement took hold in North Carolina, out West range wars were raging in states such as Wyoming.

Only instead of intimidating public land agencies, cattlemen bent on running their livestock anywhere they damn pleased were hiring gunmen back then to run off settlers, usually immigrants.

Just as Harney County, Oregon does, Idaho still has open range laws today which include areas west/northwest of our ranch that we occasionally used, including some forested summer range, where at age 6 I participated in my first roundup.

However, we kept areas fenced where we didn’t want other livestock to range including meadows and areas where we raised winter feed crops such as hay, oats and barley.

Pivot irrigation has meant that farmers have increasingly pushed into that area now and parts have been set aside as herd districts, which is a designation by counties set aside from open range.

But long before the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act provided for grazing rights on public lands, smart livestock growers, including sheepmen, were careful not to overgraze these area.

They leased state lands and set up an allotment/share system governed by a board of directors, similar to the way they handled water rights, that kept the range healthy by limiting the number of animals.

This allowed the rangeland recover, a form of stewardship that apparently these militant ranchers today don’t grasp or practice.

But like today, there were always some ranchers who weren’t smart in this way.

That’s why I have no sympathy for ranchers who overgraze public lands out West, let alone renege on fees for that privilege and then threaten bodily harm to folks just doing their jobs.

That goes, too, for those who do sympathize with that behavior.

You get a sense of this corrupted logic when you read reports where some of militants in Oregon were actually interviewed.

My earliest Idaho ancestors, dating back 155 years ago had an appreciation for public lands because, well, it was almost entirely publically owned back then.

They understood that their ability to thrive was due to policies that leveraged some of these lands so railroads were built and to provide for homesteading, water reclamation, wildlife management, timber products for shelter and fuel, as well as roads and schools, even electricity.

But between 1870 and 1900, the number of beef cattle in the 17 western states increased from 4.1 million to nearly 20 million while sheep increased from 5 million to more than 25 million, overtaxing very fragile rangeland.

The federal government did what they could to legislate some sort of control on public lands but little was done until the Great Depression resulting in the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act.

This established what were thought to be sustainable livestock numbers as well the number of ranchers permitted to graze on public lands, as well as the fees to be paid for that privilege, part of which went into range restoration.

But almost immediately, a few ranchers began to abuse the system by buying tiny amounts of land around a water source adjacent to public lands and then expecting the public to shoulder the burden of providing their rangeland while relentlessly bullying land managers to let them overgraze.

By the 1970s, when I was in college, public sentiment turned in favor of other legitimate but competing uses of public rangelands including recreation such as hunting and fishing and protection of wildlife habitat, endangered species and cultural assets, not to mention water quality.

Small towns near public lands today are much more likely to petition for a change to a higher status of public land designation than they are sympathetic to the agenda of militants such as those who took over the Oregon bird sanctuary recently.

In addition, economists have noted that rural communities adjacent to public lands are thriving economically far more than those that aren’t.

I also have no doubt that some regulations as well as regulators have grown too thick and cumbersome, ironically in an effort to stem the very behavior the militants exhibit.

Unfortunately, news coverage of this far more prevalent side of the story is meager let alone coverage of ranchers seeking reasonable solutions compared to the overly simplistic “hate government” narrative.

Like I’ve said before, my parents and ancestors were very conservative philosophically but they had no patience for ne’er-do-wells especially if veiled as armed militants.

They appreciated the role of the commons and were suspect of anyone with a sense of entitlement.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Five Generations Began with a Cub River Dugout

My earliest of five generations of Idaho roots trace to a temporary dugout my 2nd great grandparent Neeley carved into a hillside.

It was a little more than three miles up the Cub River from the fort at Franklin, where it flows down out of a canyon near where it is then joined by Maple Creek.

The headwaters of the Cub River are formed from a mountain spring now encompassed by the Cache National Forest.  But it is better known for willows, and remains a habitat for Moose and other large mammals.

I assume from looking at the area, near a crossroads they named Nashville, that the Neeley’s farmed and ranched rich bottomland.

But Armenius Miller Neeley, who went by A.M., also worked as a lineman for the telegraph when lines were extended first to Franklin in 1868 and then up Cub River Canyon and across the mountains to Paris, Idaho in 1871.

Most famously, though, he was an interpreter with the Bannock and Shoshone peoples long indigenous to that area for at least part of the year, following a “calling” or designation from Mormon leaders.

Coincidentally, both of my grandmother Adah’s grandfathers served as interpreters with Native American people indigenous to Cache Valley, as did one of my maternal grandmother’s father and grandfather further south for the Paiute and Hopi nations respectively.

My great (x2) grandfather Neeley was born in eastern Illinois where his native upstate New Yorker parents had settled in the 1820s and then returned there after a brief stint in 1830 when they unsuccessfully also tried to settle Wisconsin.

Both sets of his grandparents became Mormons in 1832, within two years of the formation of that faith.  His parents followed by the time A.M was born in 1836.

Including another ancestor who had become only the 31st member of that faith, this means there are roots on both sides of my father family tracing back to the first thousand converts to that faith, something rare among its now 15 million worldwide.

While we both became inactive nearly all of our adult lives, we respected that being Mormon can be as much about a culture as a faith.

Following conversion, my Neeley ancestors migrated across Illinois to its western edge where other Mormons gathered for a short time, creating the settlement of Nauvoo from a swamp.

By the time it vied for the second largest city in Illinois, they were forced to flee for the safety of the Rockies in 1846.

My 3rd great grandmother “Betsy,” whose father had fallen during Missouri’s at Haun’s Mill massacre a few years earlier, died on the banks of the Missouri River in route to he West.df5b1e91-ba12-4602-bdc3-2b63cc3caa04

Barely 14 years old, my 2nd great grandfather Neeley made it across the Rockies by 1850.

Shortly, he migrated north first near Brigham City before marrying my 2nd great grandmother, Susan Morgan, a Welsh immigrant.

She was just 15 and he was 19.  By 1862, they pioneered across the 42nd parallel into what would be named Idaho, even before it had been organized into a territory.

They would have probably moved back temporarily in 1863 to the safety of the rectangular fort of Franklin during an attempt by A.M. and others to mediate with the Shoshone after a settler shot and killed a brave.

But soon sixty cavalry troopers rode through the fort and what is called the Bear River Massacre ensued a few miles north on what is now US 91 near what, a few years later, would be settled as Worm Creek, now called Preston.

History tells me that my 2nd great grandparents the Neeley’s and Shumways were among the Franklin settlers that tended to wounded soldiers and Shoshone in the aftermath of what is the largest massacre by the U.S. Army.

Susan died during childbirth in 1877, a few months after dispatch riders had galloped into Franklin where they first telegraphed the news of Custer’s massacre to the East.

A.M. re-married a widow named Clark who hailed from near Spartanburg, South Carolina.  She famously smoked a corn cob pipe.

My line of Neeley’s eventually migrated north along the Henry’s Fork where my grandparents met and where my father, me and my sisters were born.

Also not far off US 91/89, it is the furthest north point along more than a thousand miles of what I call the Meridian of my DNA, because it is along this route that my ancestors created dozens of settlements from 1847 until the end of the Frontier was declared 5 decades later.

But my grandmother Adah knew here grandfather A.M. very well.  He didn’t pass until she was in her late teens and and ventured further north along the eastern edge of Idaho.

A.M. died two months after the creation of Cache National Forest a bit further up the Cub River as a nurturing influence below.  Coincidentally, it was also, just as the Targhee National Forest was created in back of the ancestral ranch where I spent my early years.

Grandma Adah told me stories A.M. while I was growing up and also left historical sketches that illuminate details whenever I fail to recall them.

I sure wish I had asked her a lot more questions.  To compensate, I weave these narratives for my young grandsons and their descendants to come.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Triggering Personal Change

Right now my partner and I are half way through a month-long “wine fast.”

It’s also, coincidentally, the anniversary of when we also added twice a week strength training to our exercise regime a year ago under the guidance of an excellent personal trainer.

We’re what is called moderate drinkers, according to dietary guidelines, sticking exclusively to red wine.

A recent study conducted over two decades found that moderate drinkers were more than 40% less likely to die within that timeframe.

Drinking red wine doesn’t mean you will live longer -- nor does weight training or taking a daily brisk walk -- but the latter two may mean you may die a whole lot better.

Studies have shown though, that fasting from alcohol for even a month (we chose February for a reason that should be obvious) has health benefits such as lowering liver fat by as much as 20% as well as cholesteral and blood sugar by an average of 16.

Alcohol (and obesity) can cause your liver to process fat differently.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we cut back from two glasses to one at dinner in March even though my liver tested normal before this wine fast.

Either way, my doctor will probably be as happy when I have my annual physical in March, as he has been with the fact that exercise over the last several years has normalized my triglyceride levels.

For anyone who reads regularly, you’re probably wondering how I can be descended from five generations of Mormons, dating to back to that faith’s first 30 members and drink alcohol, or for that matter coffee.

For the last forty years I have mostly been Mormon in culture only.  But you might be surprised to know that abstinence from alcohol or coffee or tea hasn’t always been associated with being a Mormon.

Living what is called the “Word of Wisdom” did not become a litmus test for members of that faith until the 1920s, nearly a hundred years from when it was first revealed during a time when similar dietary concerns were commonplace.

In fact, coffee and wine were provisions on the vanguard wagon train west in 1847, which included three off my ancestors.  Others who followed over the next ten or so years even planted vineyards.

I’ve already written about the tobacco chewing prowess of one of my pioneer ancestors.  One of my grandfathers on the other side, who was born in 1888,  still drank coffee and beer while I was growing up.

He’s either smiling or shaking his head as I write that drinking coffee and red wine have now been found to actually have health properties.

With all due respect, the most prevalent dietary vice among Mormons is definitely sugar.

But I digress.

I average 3 miles a day of brisk walking now, and that includes at least a 2-miler even after weight training.

So what brought about this change regarding exercise?  I grew up playing all kinds of sports but as an adult I was better known for a quarter-pounder a day with fries, often twice a day.

It isn’t the Fitbit I wear.  I’ve had one since they came out but wearing it didn’t increase my exercise.

The first sign of a thin layer of film in one of the carotid arteries in my neck was a wakeup.

Having a partner who shifted gears with me has also been a major influence.

Unlike some in a recent study here in Durham, tracking activity on a wearable has not made it a chore.  In fact, using a Fitbit to track various daily goals has made it fun and measurable.

Measurability is a key to motivation, at least for me.

It is also educational.  I’ve never thought much about “active steps.”

It is now a proven metric by several sources and studies that getting at least 10,000 steps each day is good for you.  The average American gets 5,100.

Just as important, or even more important for me, is the metric called “active minutes.”

The CDC recommends about 30 per day but defines them in increments of 10.  So Fitbit awards active minutes after 10 minutes of continuous moderate-to-intense activity such as walking at a brisk pace.

Moseying or sauntering doesn’t count and I shoot for at least 100 a day, hoping to get my heart rate, during walks, up into the cardio or even peak zone for at least 30 minutes each day.

Some weeks now I average about 150 “active minues” a day.

Coupled with this was avoiding sugar as much as possible and using another app to zero in on and then maintain my caloric balance.

I’m a few months from turning 68.  For people over the age of 65, the CDC recommends two and a half hours of moderate-intensity activity a week, about a two mile brisk walk at my pace.

Also recommended is strength training two or more days a week covering all of the major muscle groups.

So we’re doing more than okay by those standards.

Some people live their last 20, 30 or even 40 years sick, in poor health, with limited mobility and with a variety of ailments that impede their quality of life.

We’re hoping (and there is research to back it up) that by staying strong, active and healthy, although we may not live more years, we will be ale to add quality to all those years in front of us.

We’ll see.  What started as an interest in losing weight, improving tests and toning some muscles has turned into a complete life style change.

And we couldn’t be happier.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Incredible Market So Many DMOs Overlook

People were amazed when it first became apparent in the late 1990s, that Durham, North Carolina drew a higher percentage of visitors through the jointly owned Raleigh-Durham International Airport than any other city in its vast service area.

Studies a few years earlier had also confirmed that the vast majority of these visitors as well as overall visitation to Durham were point-to-point, meaning that the “Bull City” was their ultimate destination and they were not just passing through nor only tacking it on as a stopover.

Many DMOs and even more state and local officials obsess with airports as gateways, but on average, nationwide, including places such as Durham, more than 85% of domestic person-trips taken, including the overwhelming majority of those taken for business including conferences, are done as road trips.

Fully half are instate.

This isn’t counting visitors from within a 50 miles radius, although studies show that Southerners are inclined to travel as far as 244 miles round trip for a day trip, or up to 122 miles each way.

This is the sweet spot that many Destination marketers miss, especially small, emerging destinations where it should be the strategic focus.

It is useful to focus on Gen X and Baby Boomers because more than half of Millennials feel they don’t have the time for even a day trip, and even then it is primilary a foodie trip (35%.)

So studies of road-trippers focus on people who are 45+ years old where the incidence for leisure road trips is between 85% and 89% although it is people in their 60s who are the most active road-trippers.

Only a third of road-trippers fully plan their trips in advance and only half try new new destinations.  But while for men driving it is the destination that matters, women are more given to relaxation and rejuvenation.

An exception may be road-trippers who use vacation rentals, where half of women drivers put the “pedal to the metal” while 29% of male drivers are open to the “long and leisurely” route.

Outside of trips for year-end holidays, road trips potential overall is evenly spread from May through October. 

Making road-trippers unlikely to being “intercepted” enroute is that 72% stick only to the main roads - while 5% take scenic routes and 23% take a combination.

Billboards are especially useless for this purpose because 73% of road-trippers now use GPS including 43% who have in-dash systems.  Google is the other preferred app for pit stops along the way.

It is more likely that a destination can appeal to the 30% of road-trippers who look beyond the ultimate destination by reaching them online as they search popular end-desintations, more so on the outbound leg than the return.

Cities or towns town are the most popular destinations, followed by a friend or family members home.  Cities in the South are twice as popular as beaches and seven times more popular as mountains.

Only 2% take cross country road trips such as you have read about on this blog and only 1% starts off with no particular destination in mind.

For those who are open to stop-overs, a destination might appeal to 29% for a park or beach for a little over three hours.  The same percentage is open to stopping in a city or town along the way for up to 4 hours.

Local culture falls next in popularity with museums appealing to 15%, winery tours (8%), concerts/theater (5%) and sporting events (3%.)

But remember, even in these instances, any stops in route are more likely outbound than on the return and 4-in-10 make absolutely no stops enroute.

For nearly three-quarters, road trips are their favorite way to travel and 87% make them three times a year. 

DMOs for unfamiliar destinations are best advised to focus on nearby cities for demand and then for day trips and short weekends until that demand can justify additional capacity.

Any advertising done by a DMO trying to encourage stops enroute or in an an attempt to draw day trips or short weekend road trips from residents of nearby cities needs to be online, not on billboards, with a focus on search results.

Remember 3-in-4 use GPS and more and more move that direction each year.  They are more and more likely to be annoyed by roadside blight.

So a priority must be ensuring the regular submission of indepth GPS data for streets and highways as well as continually prodding and assisting all tourism related businesses, organizations and events to secure and “own” their online/GPS “real estate.”

Many states, including North Carolina, still seem to perpetuate the illusion that road trips are serial in nature and/or that visitors to a destination can be lured into driving to other communities for things easily found where they are visiting.

In part, this is why so many communities still engage in predatory marketing.

But that model hasn’t been aligned with consumer behavior for 50-70 years, if ever.  Travelers via all modes very rarely venture more than seven miles even within their primary destination.

DMO marketing doesn’t have to be “rocket science” but hubris, including that among local officials as well as misinformation from other DMOs, can make it a lot more difficult.

Focusing on instate road-trippers may lack sex appeal but it is a very lucrative strategy for destinations of any size.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Southern Roots of a Fifth Generation Idahoan

As a fifth-generation Idaho native dating back to its first permanent settlement (other than Native Americans, of course), I didn’t learn of my deep Southern roots until one day in the early 1950s.

When I first remember her telling me about this part of my heritage, I was a preschooler helping my paternal grandmother Adah tend to family graves in the tiny hill-top cemetery, above our ranch house with a view of the Tetons.

It was a bit of “commons” carved into that ancestral ranch stretching for 270 degrees around that hill.  By then my grandparents had turned the place over to my parents when my Dad, their only son, came back from chasing down Nazis as they fled into the Alps.

Because of my insatiable curiosity, my dad gave me the nickname “windy,” but I have long wished that I had asked my grandmother far more questions such as the location of the 12 x 12 homestead shack where she and grandpa first lived.

It was before they moved into the ranch house down below the cemetery where a bend of the road cuts across Snow Creek.  This is where my dad was born and where my parents first brought me and my two sisters home.

I wish I had been more curious about the abandoned house at the end of the meadow where my great-grandparents had lived and ranched and died, leaving it for me as a favorite place to explore and reflect.

I’ve carried the smells of sagebrush, my horse Gypsy, a fresh mown meadow and rain on a dirt road wherever I’ve lived since.

But it would be more than five decades after my grandmother’s revelation before I would find my Carolina roots, both North and South, dating back three hundred years and before the permanent settlement of either.

By 1860 when those roots first crossed up into Idaho Territory, and during their previous twelve years since crossing the Rockies, they had already helped create at least three other settlements including Fort Union and Fort Mendon.

My second great grandmother, Amanda Sarah Graham, had been born in 1843 near DeKalb in Kemper County Mississippi.

Her father Tom famously protected settlements from Grizzly Bears until he was mauled to death by one.  He also was also a farmer, carpenter and butcher, as well as a saw mill operator where he fashioned ox bows and handles for pitchforks, rakes and hoes.

He was heralded for reportedly being able to spit tobacco across his cabin and through a latch hole. 

For much of his life he had also been a third or fourth generation slaveholder.

Only 3% of first generation Mormon settlers were from the South and after crossing the Rockies, Tom freed slaves by the names of Isaac Green Flake, Aunt Hannah and Robert.

He set them up with land of their own outside Fort Union (rendered in the image above), at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, named not for the land of cotton but for a type of poplar tree long-common along streams even in the arid west.

Cottonwoods later became known as “Mormon trees” because they mark where settlements were created along the Meridian of my DNA, stretching from the Salt River to my native Henry’s Fork.

Fort Union was in a ravine down the canyon from where Alta and Snowbird ski resorts are today.

Leaving instructions for his children to help their former slaves with the transition to freedom whenever asked, my Southerner third great grandfather headed further north along the Rockies.

During the migration west, Tom’s wife, my third great grandmother Sarah Ann, had died along the journey during childbirth near what became Winterset, Iowa two years later and now known for the Bridges of Madison County and as the birthplace of actor John Wayne.

My Graham great (3) grandparents had once owned plantations along both sides of the Tombigbee River.

The first was on three parcels above the Sipsey River, a free-flowing Alabama swamp, 50,000 acres of wetland Cypress, Cottonwood, Hardwood and Pine forests.

Today, this area is known for canoe and hiking trails, as well as game and tree preserves, but in the 1830s it was settled by all sides of Tom and Sarah Ann’s families including the Grahams, Bradfords, McCrorys and Gilmores.

They had fought, at times side by side in the same regiment, during the Revolutionary War and Tom’s father in the War of 1812, as well.

The McCrory’s who were Scotts-Irish immigrants, left North Carolina for Tennessee after the Revolutionary War with Andrew Jackson, a family friend.

Near Nashville is where my great (3) grandmother Sarah Ann was born.

Her soon-to-be husband Tom was born in the Kershaw District of South Carolina but my fifth great grandmother was at least second generation North Carolinian on both sides.  Still they are not my earliest roots from here.

McCrory’s then migrated to western Alabama, probably down a military road through Mudtown, now Birmingham, while the Grahams and Bradfords preceded them by a few years, probably migrating down through what is now Greenville and Athens around the southern Appalachians and across through Mudtown.

There is no evidence that McCrorys ever held slaves but both my Graham and Bradford ancestors did generations before.

These migrations from the Carolinas were motivated by more than wanderlust.  One reason was the political tensions following the Revolutionary War.

Even victorious, my patriot southern ancestors were in the minority.

A majority of North Carolinians and even more South Carolinians were either ambivalent about the Revolution or loyalists to the British Crown, known as “conservatives” following the war.  They wanted a return to those values.

Another reason for their migration was soil depletion in the upper South.  Landowners, especially plantations, viewed the soil back then as something to be cleared and planted in staple crops such as cotton, tobacco and even corn and wheat, until no longer useful.

Slavery and public land policies made it cheaper to move on to new lands than to manure and rehabilitate depleted soils.

Rare today in the Carolinas are clear waterways such as Mayo Lake where we have a place.  Even here, when rains come after upstream harvests the “sheet” erosion overwhelms the ability of wetlands to filter the runoff, resulting in a temporary turbid invasion.

Southeasterners, especially it seems elected officials, who dismiss or undermine water quality standards have come to believe the waters in North Carolina are naturally muddy.

But southern soil historians such as Dr. Paul Sutter note that “a little more than a century of cotton culture…transformed the ecology, hydrology, and geomorphology of southern watershed in way that may last for thousands of years.”

On April 6, 1842, my third great grandparents Graham along with Tom’s mother, Jane, followed Mormon missionaries down into the Sipsey River to be baptized into the 12-year old, distinctly American restorationist Christian church.

In early 1846, after briefly owning plantations across the Tombigbee in Mississippi, the Grahams and their young daughter, Amanda Sarah, along with her older siblings and their three slaves loaded up wagons and headed cross state and up the Mississippi River past Saint Louis to where Mormons were already fleeing west.

Tom went ahead after his wife died crossing Iowa and then returned to bring his children across the Plains and over the Rockies.

When she crossed over the Rockies, my second great grandmother, Amanda Sarah, was about the age I was when my grandmother revealed my southern roots that day while tending graves in sight of the Tetons.

It was also the age my grandmother had been when she had briefly lived with and cared for her grandmother Amanda following a Trolley accident during a visit from Idaho to Salt Lake.

When I travel through these places of my roots and along the routes my ancestors took, I don’t romanticize as much as it probably seems to some readers.

I leave the traces in this blog as testimony to descendants through my two grandsons that the values found in our gene pool are complex and varied - a merger of many different backgrounds.

I often wonder, when judging my slaveholding Southern ancestors what we may hold common today that will be similarly revolting through the lens of future generations.

I suspect they will look back at our short-sighted “utility” economy and the havoc it is wreaking for future generations with similar disgust.

On a future visit, I plan to take my grandsons to visit the grave of Isaac Green Flake, one of the slaves freed by my southern ancestors, who was also from North Carolina, where I have lived for nearly three decades now.

Mr. Green Flake. who also elected to be baptized Mormon before the trek west, was born in eastern Anson County, North Carolina just east of Charlotte and just north of where my third great grandfather Tom was born in South Carolina in 1807.

But when their parents were born, there had been no such distinction between the Carolinas.

After Mr. Flake was given his freedom and land of his own, he worked for a time as a carriage driver for Brigham Young before also heading up into southeastern Idaho where his son had homesteaded Grays Lake near the mountains east of Blackfoot.

He also stayed in touch with the children of my Southern ancestors.

But he asked to be buried down at the old Fort Union cemetery in the shadow of the mountains he had crossed 60 years earlier and where he at last had become free.