New ‘autio stories’ feature on Discover Niagara Shuttle
By Terry Duffy
Last week, Niagara County Legislator Irene Myers visited with local tourism officials and historian interests from Youngstown and Ransomville to present $3,000 in county funding intended to further expand the area’s historical past to outside visitors.
Known as the “Great American Story Search” (storyamerica.org), this Kevin Costner-inspired project has expanded locally into a partnership of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area (NFNHA) and the Discover Niagara Shuttle. Sara Capen, executive director of the NFNHA, together with Youngstown resident Aaron Dey of the Discover Niagara Shuttle, provided insight on this offering that delves into local history like no other.
“We focus on those stories surrounding our history and culture. As a National Heritage Area, our focus is here in Niagara County,” Capen said.
According to Dey, the project entails the compiling of local accounts provided by contributors – be they historical interests, area officials or local residents. These are typically personal reflections, interesting tidbits or expanded details into the people, places and events that shaped the region’s history and its past. The accounts are further researched and then developed into what is known as “autio” stories for sharing with the public via an iPhone app.
Storyamerica.org is a project the NFNHA offers as part of its alliance with the U.S. National Parks Service. The local accounts, or “autio stories,” are produced by the NFNHA for sharing with listeners. The program works via available funding sources within the particular National Heritage Area.
Capen said the Buffalo Niagara Region is unique in that it has two such entities – the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor covering Albany to Buffalo, and the NFNHA covering Niagara County.
“To become a National Heritage Area, we go through three different acts of Congress, and it’s because our history is so significant,” she said. “New York City does not have a National Heritage Area, we do. We are one of the two (areas in the country) that has two – the Erie Canal and us. (It) is a tribute to the Parks Service coming in and saying this area is very rich.
Locally, this StoryAmerica offering has become part of the experience availed to tourists and riders on the 17-destination Discover Niagara Shuttle tour.
“The genesis of this was the shuttle,” Dey said. “We have drivers, but they’re not docents. If it wasn’t for the shuttle, this initiative would not have happened.”
“It’s an entity that (we) developed with the shuttle,” Capen said. “It’s really important for us to extend the stay for visitors. You do that by connecting with places like Youngstown; people do that in different ways, by looking out, by connecting with their phone and listening to a story. By the story telling. Our goal by the end of this year is to have stories all along the shuttle route, so that (the visitor) can spend time with us.”
Dey said there are 105 stories on the autio app with a working list of 150 additional stories in development – dependent on funding sources.
“They (the NFNHA) created an initiative to research and write over 100 important local area stories,” he said. Once written, they are narrated and published for the world to hear and see. “We’re focused on Niagara County because, really, ultimately, it’s the most storied place in all America, with all the things that have happened here.”
He said that, once prepared in autio form, topical links are created where listeners can dive deeper into the stories and, hopefully, be inspired to visit; or, in many cases, make a return trip to Buffalo-Niagara with a different appreciation after hearing the narrated story and being directed to where they actually happened.
“We're well on track to have 250 Niagara County published stories by 2024,” Dey said.
He and Capen expressed their appreciation to Myers for providing the county Community Partnership funding. Her assistance will now allow for development of nine new stories from the Youngstown and Ransomville areas. All parties are collaborating with historical interests in both communities to get underway.
“We’re grateful to Irene and our small historical societies who do so much to preserve and steward our history, to make sure we find ways to preserve our stories here, because they’re so unique; they’re priceless,” Capen said.
“That was always my focus on this area,” Myers said. “My mission is to preserve and enhance our history here, and send our message, because we have such a beautiful area here. It’s so rich here; we’ve got to preserve that.
“This is really our first step into this; we want it to continue, grow. It not only tells our story, but it’s also a nice economic driver and tells our history.”
Dey noted, “What we’re building here is really for the future.”
He invited those with stories to share to reach out to him as this project moves ahead. For more information, Dey can be contacted at [email protected] or by phone at 716-523-7207.