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Students Create Collaborative Tourism Plan for 'Route 16' Cattaraugus Communities

By Brian Peters

Release Date: December 15, 2010

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UB graduate students have developed a tourism-based plan to increase economic development opportunities for the Cattaraugus County communities along Route 16.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Anyone familiar with the Route 16 corridor in Cattaraugus County can cite its many attractions: inspiring natural beauty, friendly inhabitants, a plethora of recreational opportunities -- including kayaking, fishing, hiking and horseback riding -- alpaca, bison and dairy farms, maple sugar festivals and rodeos, and arts, cultural and historical tourist sites.

But they know the drawbacks of the area as well: occasional dangerous terrain, low per capita income, inaccessibility and poor signage -- just to name a few.

For years, regional planners have made numerous proposals to improve economic opportunity along the corridor. But even cohesive plans did not include concrete recommendations that addressed some of the issues cited above.

Now, in a planning room on the second floor of Hayes Hall, a group of nine ambitious UB graduate students are putting the final touches on a plan and presentation they will give to the Route 16 Corridor Community Partnership, a non-profit organization designed to breathe life back into the area's struggling economy by promoting its tourism opportunities.

The informational, community-wide presentation of the UB students' plan will be presented today at 7 p.m. in the Delevan Town Hall and is open to the public. The plan will suggest tourism-based economic development opportunities for the Cattaraugus County communities situated along Route 16 in New York's Southern Tier -- including the Delevan, Machias, Hinsdale, Franklinville and Olean communities.

The students are part of a tourism studio headed by Sam Cole, a professor of urban and regional planning in UB's School of Architecture and Planning, an adjunct professor of geography in the UB College of Arts and Sciences and the former director of the UB Center for Regional Studies. During his last sabbatical, Cole prepared a framework for sustainable tourism for the government of Aruba. Cole has operated the studio, which focuses on developing economic tourism opportunities in Cattaraugus County, for six years now.

"The real purpose of the studios is education, however," says Cole, "and these proposals are payback to communities for letting us educate students in their backyard. It was a new experience for them to meet and work with people with backgrounds very different from their own and to come up with solutions to problems they have never faced in their own lives."

When preparing their presentation, the students studied the history of villages and towns along the corridor, analyzed present demographic and economic conditions, and built on recommendations made by previous studios run by Cole, which offered tourism strategies for the same communities.

The previous studios that Cole has run have excited corridor-wide enthusiasm for the revitalization of tourism in the area, including prompting the creation of the Route 16 Corridor Community Partnership. Establishing the Route 16 Corridor Community Partnership as a non-profit in itself suggested solutions they may have otherwise missed.

"This allowed the organization to access grant funding and enter into partnerships that are inaccessible to unincorporated organizations," says Cole.

These grants could fund branding and marketing strategies suggested by the students for the region. The strategies would highlight the corridor's historical and cultural assets, and make the region both better known and more attractive to potential tourists.

"This area in the Southern Tier has dealt with poverty and loss of population and jobs for so long now," says Tyler Mekus, a second-year graduate student in UB's Master's in Urban Planning (MUP) program. "We're trying to use Cattaraugus County as an example of being able to use tourism to boost an area's economy."

The students' presentation will offer several policy and programmatic recommendations that could improve economic conditions, reduce population loss, strengthen the existing sense of community and increase the corridor's visibility within the Western New York region based on a tourism-oriented strategy.

Among the students' suggestions made to the Route 16 Corridor Community Partnership this semester: hiring a tour bus company to transport tourists from Niagara Falls and Buffalo to Cattaraugus County and a newly designed travel brochure specifically designed to pull Asian tourists visiting Niagara Falls to the myriad attractions of the Route 16 corridor, increasing the corridor's international profile.

Though somewhat nervous about giving the presentation, the students are excited about the opportunity to offer real-world strategies that may very well be embraced by the partnership and boost the economy of the Route 16 corridor.

And some of the previous suggestions to come out of the studio have done just that. Some of the past tourism strategies include the Sweet 16 Bike Tour, improvements to the Route 16 Garage Sale and registering local historical sites with the National Register of Historic Places, all of which were successful.

"We're getting practical application of theory we've been taught," says David Trent, also a second-year graduate student in UB's MUP program. "We're coming up with real solutions to problems they want to address."

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