Written by Mike Rea, President and CEO of Tourism Cares
Like hundreds of volunteers in the historic town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Belinda Brewster "feels the weight of history" to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s transatlantic voyage and final landing.
"It’s not simply a celebration of Plymouth for Plymouth," she says. "It’s a celebration of Plymouth for the nation."
Brewster is a board member of Plymouth 400, a coalition of local officials, museum and park managers, preservationists, and residents who are preparing for the commemoration in 2020. Today, more than 350,000 visitors from nearly 80 countries visit the town each year, which boasts an enviable 21 locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including Burial Hill, an early U.S. cemetery spanning the Mayflower’s arrival to the Civil War. Tourism in Plymouth generates an annual $325 million and contributes 7,200 local jobs.
"Everyone is so focused," she says. "All of these wonderful groups are coming together to celebrate our heritage."
Visitors flock to Plimoth Plantation, built in 1947 by wealthy Bostonian Harry Hornblower. The award-winning 17th-century living history museum and Smithsonian Institute affiliate explores the saga of early English colonists and the Wampanoag.
Its lush, mostly undeveloped grounds overlooking Cape Cod Bay include an elegant early 20th-century formal perennial garden of terraces and water features designed in 1920 by the Olmsted firm, as well as painstakingly crafted outdoor exhibits, like a solid oak palisade that surrounds the museum’s authentic 17th-century English village and an indigenous homesite made using poplar bark.
These historically accurate structures suffer rot, mold, and the inevitable unforgiving New England weather, while invasive species threaten the banks of the Eel River, protected under the Endangered Species Act. However, like many private educational institutions in the U.S., the museum is limited in staff and resources, relying on admission fees, contributions, and memberships.
In September 2013, Tourism Cares brought more than 275 travel industry professionals on World Tourism Day to save Plimoth Plantation and Friends of Burial Hill $160,000 in labor and 2,113 hours of time to preserve this iconic experience. Volunteers worked alongside museum staff artisans to:
- restore the palisade, a feat of planning and muscle;
- sand, scrape, and paint the decks of the Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the original wind vessel that was built in Devon, England and crossed the Atlantic in 1957;
- and clean 160 lichen-infested gravestones at Burial Hill, a first step in their eventual (and expensive) preservation.
Tourism Cares also awarded a $10,000 grant to the exceptional leadership at Plimoth Plantation to support their capacity to steward and promote this special destination.
After a full day of work, volunteers from as far as Washington state gathered on a grassy slope near the museum’s visitor center, the bay large and shimmering behind them. Ellie Donovan, the executive director of Plimoth Plantation, said to the group: "The gift of your time will help us to continue to provide guests with an engaging, transformative experience. You have helped preserve these for the future."
Tourism Cares is a nonprofit that preserves iconic travel experiences. Check them out at TourismCares.org.