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Explore Your Local Heritage: Passport Programs and Beyond

When it comes to exploring the richness of our world, it’s easy to overlook the hidden gems in our own backyard. Luckily, there are passport programs that encourage us to become tourists in our local area, fostering a deeper appreciation for the heritage and history around us. Let’s delve into three remarkable passport programs that offer unique adventures for those keen on exploring and learning more about the past.

1. National Park Stamps Program: A Journey Through American Heritage

Since its establishment in 1986, the National Park Stamps Program has been a gateway to a treasure trove of experiences within the United States. The program serves as a log, documenting the unique encounters one has at national parks, landmarks, and heritage areas across the country. The prized National Park Stamps, acquired for free at participating sites, serve as a testament to each visit, preserving memories of exploration.

To partake in this adventure, all you need is a Passport book, readily available at National Park Service’s or local National Parks and National Heritage Areas (NHA) visitor centers/gift shops. Not only does this allow you to record your journey, but 100% of the proceeds from purchases support education and preservation efforts at America’s National Parks, further contributing to the conservation of our natural and historical wonders.

Becky and Matt Ellis have been participating in the program since 2011. While they were driving to the Poconos to visit another site, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, I was able to ask them a few questions about their experiences over the phone.

Ellis at Sotterley Plantation.
Becky and Matt Ellis at Sotterley Plantation, located in Hollywood, Maryland.

Amanda: What prompted you to get into such a hobby?

Becky: We were in North Carolina and went to where the Wright brothers took off. The gift shop had information on the Stamps Program. Matt was always more of a history buff than I was, until we actually started doing this. It’s kind of neat. It gets us out and allows us to learn a little bit more about American history.

Amanda: How many states and sites have you visited so far?

Matt: We’ve done probably about a dozen states. I mean, some of them have been in most of the states. Like Kansas, we did the entire state. South Carolina, I think we did most of the state. Michigan and some other states are just too big or just too spread out for us to visit each site.

Becky: So what we typically do when we go on vacation, it’s first based around whatever NASCAR race we go to that year. Then we do the majority, if not all, of the national parks in that state during that week. It can be a lot of driving. We used to live in Waldorf, Maryland, which was like a 20 minute drive to DC. So we’ve done a lot of DC. I think we only have eight more sites to hit DC.

2. MotorCities National Heritage Passport Program: Uncover the Automotive Legacy

One of the 39 National Heritage Areas are in our own backyard. Established in 1998, the MotorCities National Heritage Passport Program invites you to discover the fascinating story of how southeast and central Michigan “Put the World on Wheels.” This program seamlessly links an array of cultural and labor organizations, museums, archives, factories, auto collections, and events to preserve the narrative of how tinkerers became titans. This transformational journey illuminates the role of the automotive industry and labor in shaping the middle class and impacting global manufacturing.

The MotorCities NHA spans 16 counties, encompassing over 100 locations, including the iconic Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site. It offers a unique lens through which to view the evolution of the automotive industry, inviting enthusiasts and novices alike to delve into Michigan’s automotive heritage.

When asked about their experience visiting the MotorCities NHAs, Becky and Matt each had a lot to share.

Becky: When we came to Detroit for one of the NASCAR races, all of the sites we went to were in and around Detroit. I think there were 35 stamps. There was a lot of driving.

Becky: And I think there were only two out of those 35 we didn’t get because they were out of the way or not open that day. It can take a lot of pre planning to work everything out.

Matt: It was very diverse. Even though it’s called the “MotorCities NHA” it’s a collective of automotive and music history, even a Firehouse Museum. When you think Motor City, you’re thinking more just automotive history, not necessarily just Detroit in general. So we were able to get a little bit of history from different angles of the area.

Becky and Matt made a stop at the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site during their tour of the MotorCities NHA. Unfortunately, their visit had to be cut short because of a wedding but they were able to pack a lot into the small window of time they had.

Becky: These were supposed to be testing grounds and they had these gorgeous buildings. We wish we would have been able to stay a little longer, but we didn’t want to be wedding crashers.

Matt: Because Packard is no longer around, it was a unique experience. Allowing us to actually see remnants of its past, where instead of having to go on a computer and look for photos and read from former workers and such, you could still see the building. You could still smell the oil and the grease. And they still had some of the cars there. So you still were able to see and to a degree, experience it through your senses.

Photo of the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site, taken by Becky and Matt Ellis.

3. Macomb County Heritage Alliance: Unveiling Local History

Macomb County Heritage Alliance Logo
MCHA Logo

For those yearning to explore their community’s unique heritage, the Macomb County Heritage Alliance is a great starting point. A collaborative organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage and history of Macomb County, Michigan, it typically consists of various historical societies, museums, and cultural institutions in the county. 

The alliance works to protect and showcase the historical, cultural, and natural assets of Macomb County. Debbie Remer, the current President of the MCHA, works diligently alongside organizations like the Packard Proving Grounds, adding depth and vibrancy to the local historical narrative. As one of the local organizations involved in preserving and promoting the heritage within the MotorCities National Heritage Area, their participation is linked to the Passport Program, as well.

Passport Programs and Beyond: Your Adventure Awaits

The introduction of the Landmark National Heritage Area Act in 2023 is set to further elevate the significance of passport programs. By providing financial and technical assistance to NHAs, this legislation paves the way for a renewed focus on preserving and celebrating our nation’s diverse historical and cultural tapestry.

Additionally, State Historical Markers play a crucial role in acknowledging and commemorating sites of historical importance. The inclusion of the Packard Proving Grounds as a registered site and its recognition on the National Register of Historic Places showcase its deep-rooted significance within Michigan’s history.

As we embrace the allure of passport programs and delve into the historical tapestry of our localities, we embark on a journey that not only educates but also fosters a profound appreciation for the heritage that surrounds us. So, grab your passport, be a tourist in your own backyard, and let the adventure begin.

Packard cormorant
Packard cormorant. Photo taken by Becky and Matt Ellis.

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