June 1, 2009

The North Carolina Arts Council launches http://www.happyvalleync.org as part of its Cultural Trails Program. This project is being used as a new statewide place-based economic development model of how cultural assets can shape the economy in rural communities.

The Historic Happy Valley project originated in 2004 when farmers and other valley residents contacted the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, to help preserve farmland and open space, boost economic development through heritage and cultural tourism development, protect water quality of the Yadkin River, and conserve cultural resources through documentation of folklife in the valley.

Partners including the North Carolina Arts Council, the Appalachian Regional Commission, The Conservation Fund, the Foothills Conservancy, Caldwell Arts Council, Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce, Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources have contributed funds and expertise to achieve results that would have been unlikely, or even impossible, without the involvement of these state agencies and non-profit partners.

Recent projects include:

1. Greenway construction: Funding, administered through the Department of Transportation, was identified to complete construction of the initial two-mile section of a public multi-purpose river trail located within the headwaters of the Yadkin River Basin in Happy Valley. Funding was approved by DOT in June, 2008 and granted to the Yadkin River Heritage Corridor Partnership Project.

2. Farmland protection: The 142-acre Jones farm on the Yadkin River in Happy Valley is one of the most scenic viewsheds in the valley and the farm also preserves important historic and cultural resources. Part of the old road trace that comprises the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, as well as the Laura Foster gravesite, are located on the farm. In addition to functioning as a working farm, the site is used for heritage events that present the valley’s folklife traditions to the public including the Happy Valley Fiddler’s Convention, Plow Day and Mow Day. Through the Historic Happy Valley project, the Jones family partnered with the Foothills Conservancy to apply for funds needed to create a conservation easement on the farm.

3. Signage: Local project partners expressed a need for signage and mile markers along Highway 268 in Happy Valley for use by visitors looking for historic sites, arts venues and events. Grant funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission administered through the Department of Commerce, as well as support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the N.C. Arts Council supported the design, fabrication and installation of twenty-one mile markers crafted by a regional metalsmith.

4. Public Programs/Marketing: Recent grants made by N.C. Arts Council grants were used to plan and produce public programs, podcasts and events that present the living traditions of Happy Valley; create a Web site that includes maps, descriptions of sites and programs, an events calendar and artist profiles; and complete folklife fieldwork focusing upon the cultural traditions of African American communities in the valley.

The partnerships at work in Historic Happy Valley are replicated throughout North Carolina’s creative economy. The support of many different agencies and institutions is an important asset in fostering creative activity for its economic potential.