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Barn appeal: New effort draws people to rural areas

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Ted Sullivan
October 18, 2008
— While driving in rural Walworth County, we're often in a hurry.

We talk on our cell phones. We fumble with the stereo. We ignore the scenery. We pass everything by.


But a group of people wants us to slow down. They hope we'll admire our agricultural heritage. They plan to bring back the Sunday afternoon drive.


To revitalize rural areas, their goal is to attract motorists in 2009 and get them to stop for a new attraction: Barn quilts.


The quilts will be colorful squares. They'll be placed on the sides of barns. They could attract visitors.


Drivers might stop to admire them. Tourists could spend money. Small businesses and farmer's markets will be rejuvenated.


Debbie Collins of Spring Prairie Township is a member of the committee working to bring barn quilts to Walworth County. She said 10 farmers are currently volunteering their barns.


"Agricultural people are interested in promoting their farms, their history and their heritage," Collins said. "We would like to get enough quilts to get some in every part of the county."


Barn quilts have their roots in Ohio. They have been painted on barns throughout the Midwest since 2001. The idea is to help economically depressed areas.


The Ohio Arts Council started the trend to generate traffic into rural areas. Residents put quilts on their tobacco barns. People began viewing them. Rural businesses boomed.


"They have been effective in other parts of the country," Collins said. "People come from all over to see them."


Sharon Lauderdale, owner of Sawdust & Stitches in Elkhorn, said brochures with maps could be created to help people tour the barns. She said the routes could draw people to rural businesses along the way.


"People can drive around and see the little barns that are around and get a taste of quilting along the way," Lauderdale said.


Counties in other states have grabbed onto the idea. Quilts can be seen in several states, including Illinois and Iowa. Racine and Green counties in Wisconsin also have barn quilts.


"My sister-in-law lives in Iowa, and she has shown me pictures of them," Lauderdale said. "It was just kind of neat."


Organizers need money for the project. They are searching for barn owners interested in displaying quilts. They want volunteers to help with fundraisers. They also need painters.


"It's hard to say where it will go from here," Collins said.


BARN QUILTS OF WALWORTH COUNTY COMMITTEE

What: Planning meeting


When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29.


Where: Walworth County offices, 100 W. Walworth St., Elkhorn.


For more information: Call Peg Reedy, Walworth County's UW Extension office, (262) 741-4961.



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