At Your Service: May 7, 2008

A meeting in Sidney brought home the reality that Delaware County really is larger than the state of Rhode Island. Lucky for me, it was a gorgeous spring day. I took the scenic route – as if there were another kind. It served as a refresher course on just how beautiful this part of the country really is and why tourism is such a natural industry for the region.
Trips to that end of the county are just infrequent enough for me to lose my bearings every time I go. My trusty Delaware County map, though frayed and yellowed with time, got me over hill and dale without a hitch. But once to Sidney, I needed help. I stopped into what appeared to be an official office for some directions.
Asking for the location of the library, I received an all too typical response, “It’s at the corner of Bridge and Main.” When I indicated that I didn’t know where either street was located, the somewhat puzzled woman, responded, “The library is across from the Presbyterian Church, across from where the mini-mart used to be.”

No landmarks
While this would not have helped if I had never been to Sidney before; it actually told me what I needed to know. I remembered passing the site of the old mini-mart and thinking that things had changed quite a bit since my last visit. The building had been refurbished and taken on a new life serving as what appeared to be home to some offices.
So, I got back in my car, drove to the corner, made a left turn. After going two blocks, I found the library. It was the other new building I hadn’t recognized, despite the huge sign that spread across its front portal. Perhaps if I had not been so absorbed with the mini-mart conversion, I would have looked left.
We can only hope that soon the area will be crowded with visitors. Like me in Sidney, they will need help. Many will have GPS systems in their cars that won’t provide the expected assistance without reception. They will be dependent upon the kindness of strangers – that’s you and me.
Providing directions that people can follow is a critical service in an area underserved by most information providers. While we may remember that a mini-mart used to stand near the corner, it isn’t necessarily a detail that helps someone new to the area. The woman in Sidney could have just as easily said, “When you leave the parking lot, go to the corner and turn left. The library is two blocks down on your right.”
On the other hand, if the mini-mart is still there, it makes a foolproof landmark. People love to watch for interesting landmarks as they make their way around an area they are visiting. The barns, historical markers and sites that we take for granted are often just the things they came to see. The more of these that we know about and can direct people to, the more likely we are to contribute something extra to their trip.

Special visits
People don’t travel to this part of the country to see the people; for observing, we are common enough. There is, however, an infinite assortment of ways that we can make someone’s visit special. We know where the Anti Rent Wars were waged and can point them toward the Hunting Tavern. The Old Stone Schoolhouse is a great detour that just takes a few minutes and can make a day interesting. The locations of some trail heads are obscured from the view of the untrained eye.
We can also direct them through the many drives on which they will find spectacular vistas. For my money, nothing beats the view from the top of Palmer Hill; it still takes my breath away. Whatever your favorite view share it with the visitors among us. It is something we provide that no map or GPS system can. It will lead people on the kind of adventure no amusement park can match and give them reasons to return again and again.