An audio connection to the past
written by Sheila G. Miller | photos by Jill Linzee
Long road trips in Washington don’t have to be boring. In fact, Northwest Heritage Resources’ heritage tours put trips into the realm of memorable. The tours are audio guides meant to be listened to on any of ten common routes throughout the state.
Narrated audio guides include traditional music, stories and other content from locals who live along each route. These tours identify scenic views, natural sites and historic locations along the route and provide insight into the state’s culture.
Jill Linzee, the executive director of Northwest Heritage Resources, said the tours were the brainchild of several of the state’s public folklorists as part of an effort to educate people about the local culture.
“As one of my colleagues put it, it’s about the invisible cultural landscape,” Linzee said. “It’s not necessarily invisible, but when you drive along you aren’t necessarily connected with all the people who live there and why they live there and what their local culture is.”
Each of the guides are dedicated to a heritage corridor or scenic byway in Washington. Some of the guides were created with help from the Washington State Department of Transportation, while others had the support of the National Endowment for the Arts. The guides are timed to the drive, so that when you’re driving through Snohomish, you’ll be hearing about Snohomish from people who live there. Most of the audio tours come with complementary guidebooks—with more information, bibliographies and in several cases sequences of maps for each area identifying places of interest.
Producing the guides is labor intensive. First, cultural specialists spend hundreds of hours researching the area.
“We’re looking for, what is the local folk life? What are the cultural communities that are unique and important to this part of the state?” Linzee said. “That is done by doing basic library research about the region and the history of settlement in that part of the state, from the earliest times right up until the present. We are interested in showing the history of cultural development of the area but also present day.”
Next, folklorists identify people in the area to highlight, then head to the region to do interviews and recordings.
“For example, when we go to a place like the Cascades Loop, because it covers a lot of ground and some of it is on Puget Sound and some of it is up in the mountains, we might be interviewing people like boat builders on Whidbey Island and crop farmers on some of the famous historic farming areas of Whidbey, people who are cowboys and ranchers in eastern Washington, people who work the woods but also different kinds of cultural traditions that come out of those,” she said. “We would record Native Americans telling legends tied to various places. We might go into the local Grange Hall and record people playing music for a dance for the Scandinavian community, or singing blue grass gospel in the areas where the old Tarheels settled from North Carolina in Washington.”
Often the folklorists end up with more than two hours of a single interview, then have to narrow it to a three-minute clip.
The group has recorded Mariachi bands in Wenatchee, interviewed Bavarian mural painters in Leavenworth and taken a deep dive into the Vietnamese community in Everett.
In the Cascades Loop, much of the land is overseen by the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies, so they let USFS employees tell stories. In the Methow Valley, multiple generations have made their livelihoods as horsepackers.
There’s a lot of history in the guides, and all have Native American voices in them as well.
“Everywhere you go in the state there was at one point in time native communities,” Linzee said. “Some of them were forced out of those areas, but we tell their story too. Actually what’s important is that they tell their stories, that’s what’s really interesting about these guides. We find people who represent these aspects of the culture and we interview and record them.”
“We’ll pick out some of the music, or if we have, for example, a cowboy poet, we’ll have them reciting some of their cowboy poetry,” Linzee said. “We may have somebody telling a story or a legend, and maybe we can’t have the whole legend but we can have some important piece of it.”
Linzee said she’s listened to other guides while traveling in other states, but has never heard anything quite as well-researched or as well presented. “It’s not just some narrator telling you about the area,” Linzee said. “You’re hearing local people telling about it.”