Rhode Island’s Independence Trail has all the makings of a major historic attraction, but there’s one thing it hasn’t got: an aura of permanence.
Like Boston’s Freedom Trail, Rhode Island’s way-finding path to historic landmarks covers 2.5 miles and connects visitors to the path and historic sites with emblems, or markers on the ground.
“They’ve made their trail significantly more permanent than ours by way of putting bronze emblems in granite,” Independence Trail founder Bob Burke said. “And they’ve replaced the painted line, which wears off, with brick, which is as permanent as you can get.”
What makes the Independence Trail, which follows a green-painted line, different is a phone number on every plastic emblem, along with the designated number for any of 50 landmarks. Visitors call to hear a free recording about a landmark’s history via their cellphone.
Those plastic emblems, says Burke, have seen better days.
Burke, who runs the Independence Trail Education Foundation, is launching a $50,000 fundraising campaign for new bronze emblems that he hopes to complete by the end of the year. Investing the money from individuals, companies and foundations would pay dividends, he says, particularly if the emblems are installed sometime this coming spring.
“That’s the kind of pride we need to start showing if we’re going to get more tourists to come and spend money,” said Burke, the owner of Providence’s Pot au Feu restaurant. “We want the emblems to be equivalent to the quality of our history, because the quality of our history is top-notch.”
Burke believes the ambitious Rhode Island project, which became a usable historic trail in the summer of 2011, has the potential to draw much more than the tens of thousands of visitors it has to date.