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Helper garners 'true western town' honors for second consecutive year

Sun Advocate reporter

With its emphasis on preserving its history, Helper was named for a second year as the True Western Town. Topping a list of 10 towns receiving such an honor, Helper will receive the award, now in its second year, from True West magazine.

"You step back 100 years when you're in Helper," said SueAnn Martell, director of the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper.

Many Carbon County residents, especially those who live in Helper, see the town as just an ordinary hometown, Martell noted. However, as a museum director, she has been able to see things through visitors eyes, who see Helper as a piece of living history.

The city's efforts to preserve its history were a large factor in determining a winner.

Last year, Helper was honored with a 10th place ranking, but the town moved to the first place slot for the current year.

"This is going to be great for tourism," said Helper Mayor Mike Dalpiaz.

And while the mayor indicated that he hopes tourist spending increases in Helper, Dalpiaz added that many tourism dollars will go to Price and other areas of the county.

More than 20,000 nomination packets were distributed by True West Magazine. After narrowing the field down to some 250 applications, judges whittled the list down to the top 10.

"We beat out some serious competition," said Martell.

Last year's first place winner, Sheridan, Wyo., dropped to a sixth place spot. Other towns on the list include Silver City, N.M.; Guthrie, Okla.; Wickenburg, Ariz.; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Carson City, Nev.; Pendleton, Ore.; Juneau, Alaska; and St. Joseph, Mo.

In selecting the winners, judges looked at a number of criteria.

One of the most important criteria is how the town is working to preserve its history through older buildings and districts, events, museums and other institutions.

The winners topping the list also stand out in the ways the towns promote local histories to tourists.

"When it comes to preserving and celebrating its heritage, the town of Helper helps itself," said Bob Boze Bell, executive editor of True West. "Its Western Mining and Railroad Museum is a treasure - and a new facility is under construction this year. The local historic preservation commission was reorganized last year in an effort to redouble efforts to save and maintain older buildings. The community is incredibly involved in these projects - and in getting the word out about Helper. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Helper richly deserves the honor of 2007 True Western Town."

Even as Helper's Mining and Railroad Museum is preparing for the construction of a new wing, the plans emphasize the older portion of the building, explained Martell.

While the older portion is three stories, the addition will stand shorter at two stories and will be set back from the street, giving prominence to the historic portion of the museum.

"The museum and businesses are actively doing something to keep Helper alive," said the museum director.

The restructured historic preservation commission has created incentives for businesses to preserve or restore historic buildings.

But at the same time, the commission has created the latitude needed for new businesses to thrive, whether they participate in the preservation or not.

Historic re-enactments throughout the year constantly remind the public of Helper's heritage and attract out-of-town guests. And local businesses are participating in Helper's history.

One such example, explained Martell, is a partnership to publish a book in conjunction with Kenilworth's 100th anniversary.

Although the book had been written by a longtime Kenilworth resident, the Helper Western Mining and Railroad Museum assisted the author's effort by providing photos and other materials.

In addition, a Helper publisher coordinated production and printing.

Partnerships between businesses; city government, including the museum; and local residents have proven to be effective.

In the process of working to preserve Helper's history, buildings have been restored, parks have been built and century-old historic relics have been preserved.

Plans for Helper include the preservation of a fireplace and chimney down the hill from Helper Junior High.

The fireplace and chimney are the last remnants of a park and ice skating rink that once occupied space curently used by U.S. Highway 6.

Also in the works, the city is looking at the possibility of building an elevated platform in the park on Main Street.

The planned platform would overlook the rail yard and feature information and visuals supplied by the museum.

Efforts to preserve the history of Helper and, at the same time attract visitors, are two factors Martell agreed Helper is doing well.

The factors played an important role in Helper's first place ranking.

The two factors were further augmented by the mining and railroad history in and around the city and the diversity of the town, spurred by generations of immigrants.

Helper has made considerable strides in the city's efforts to preserve the town's history in the last year. And in the application for the award this year, city officials and staff emphasized the ongoing efforts.

"We were selected because of our efforts in historic preservation," said Martell

Subscribers to True West will receive copies of the January/February 2007 magazine in the current week, which will feature Helper along with others listed in the top 10.

The magazine will hit the newsstands Dec. 12.

The Helper Western Mining & Railroad Museum will receive a limited supply of additional copies for distribution and plans to keep a reference copy on hand at the museum.

For additional information, Carbon County residents with Internet access may visit True West at Local residents may also call the magazine toll-free at 888-687-1881.

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