Falling for History at America’s New National Park
Student created app sparks tourism in the Silk City
Nestled in the middle of a 225 year old industrial city lies a natural wonder – the Paterson Great Falls. Established as a national park in 2009, local youth say its natural beauty and rich history are a must-see. Now, they’re combining creativity and technology to bring more foot traffic to the falls. Why did they do it?
First, let’s rewind:
Paterson, New Jersey, located 15 miles from Manhattan has a deep industrial history. In the late 1700’s it received funding from an investment group created by Alexander Hamilton, which helped launch its manufacturing base. Shortly after, Paterson became an economic powerhouse – producing products like railroad locomotives, textile machinery, cotton and silk. By the late 1800’s, it was dubbed the “Silk City” due to its high production of the elegant fabric.
A century later, life in Paterson took a drastic turn. Economic changes and declines in manufacturing led to layoffs and limited opportunities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ranked Paterson as the most economically distressed city in America.
While jobs, the economy and opportunities have changed…today, a part of Paterson remains the same. In fact, some say it’s become more beautiful over time…
The Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
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“There’s natural beauty right here in Paterson, said high school senior Jeferson Mendoza. “It gives us something to be proud of.” Mendoza is one of 19 students from the John F. Kennedy STEM Academy working to promote and preserve this national park. With the help of a $96,233.63 grant from State Farm, Jeferson and his peers have been working with the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson to create a free smartphone app encouraging people to visit the area. Known as the Mill Mile audio tour app, it guides participants through a 13-stop walking tour of the grounds. As users explore historical sites, the app shares fun facts, park trivia and includes a quiz to test their Paterson history knowledge. There’s even a virtual tour option for those who can’t visit the park in person.
“This project was all about the students,” said Hamilton Partnership for Paterson Program Director, Robin Gold. “They worked hard to make the tour more appealing to young people.” “We put in countless hours of planning meetings, researching, budgeting, writing content, and more,” added Jeferson. “Some of the work was tedious, but I learned so much. I’m confident this project will have a positive impact on Paterson, which is exciting.”
"Prior to the Mill Mile audio tour app, I had only been to the falls a handful of times. Now I visit more often and I encourage everyone to do the same,” said Jeferson. “Believe it or not, the photos don’t do it justice!”
Word of the Great Falls is spreading. In 2016, the national historical park set a record of more than 177,000 visitors.
“This area is special and the park is a soothing environment,” said Jeferson. It serves as a beacon of hope.”