With a national landmark designation for the village’s landscape design already in its pocket, Riverside has been named a Preserve America community and was notified of the award in a letter from First Lady Michelle Obama, the honorary chairwoman of the federal initiative.

Preserve America is a cooperative program of several federal agencies, including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and others.

Annually, Preserve America recognizes communities that, according to its Web site, “protect and celebrate their historic heritage, use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs.”

The Preserve America program was started in 2003 and since that time, 762 communities across the nation have been honored with the designation. Eight places in Illinois, including Oak Park, Lockport, Will County and Blue Island, have been honorees. Riverside was the only Illinois town named a Preserve America community in 2009.

While Riverside may be new to the idea of leveraging its historic legacy for economic development and tourism, the Preserve American program does enable member communities to take advantage of federal grants otherwise not available.

The dollar-for-dollar matching grants can be used for a wide variety of purposes, including preservation planning, marketing, historical research and education. Since 2006, the federal government has awarded $17 million to fund over 200 projects in 47 states.

In Illinois, for example, a $43,000 Preserve America grant helped fund planning for a visitors’ center for the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau in Rock Island in a historic building threatened with demolition.

The village of Riverside issued a press release announcing the Preserve America designation last week, and trustee Ben Sells announced the recognition at Monday night’s village board meeting.

Village President Michael Gorman said that the board will officially mark the award at a later date.

“We won’t sit back to pursue the benefits of this award,” Gorman said. “I’m very proud of it and am grateful to staff for pursuing it.”

The Preserve America designation has been in the works since March 2008. The application was completed by Laure Kosey, the village’s director of parks and recreation, and Ameya Pawar, who was an administrative intern at that time.

Kathleen Rush, Riverside’s former village manager, said that pursuing the designation “was part of the normal opportunity to look for ways to recognize the community.”

Former Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr., who encouraged seeking the designation, said, “It’s just my pleasure to get the long-term benefit of it. It stands you in better stead to get grant funding through their program in the future.

“From a practical standpoint, I hope we get assistance in future grant projects.”

Kosey, in the press release sent by the village last week, also expressed her pleasure in having the application accepted.

“This is a long time coming as the application was first made in March 2008 and, following revisions, was successful in 2009. I am very excited for the community. Riverside is the epitome of a Preserve America community and this designation is an honor.”

For more information on the program, visit the group’s Web site at www.preserveamerica.gov.