Rallying Support for National Heritage Areas

Representatives of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation joined with members of Congress and partners from across the country to rally support for national heritage areas at a press conference Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol. The foundation manages the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District, a national heritage area in western Virginia.

Battlefields Foundation director of policy and communications Elizabeth Paradis Stern and staff assistant Mackenzie Grimes appeared with dozens of representatives from heritage areas as far away as Utah, Massachusetts and Georgia, to call for legislation to strengthen the heritage areas program within the National Park Service and provide permanent base funding.

NHAs Caucus to Push for Heritage Area Legislation

At the press conference, U.S. Reps. Charles Dent (R-PA) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) announced the creation of a National Heritage Areas Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives that will pursue legislation to formally create a National Heritage Areas Program within the Park Service. Currently the management of the individual heritage areas is coordinated by a heritage areas office within the agency.

Legislation authorizing a National Heritage Areas Program would improve the establishment of new areas by creating criteria and standards for qualification as a heritage area, and ensuring that they meet management guidelines. The legislation would also foster a permanent base funding stream for the program.

National heritage areas leverage federal funds to create jobs, generate revenue for local governments, and sustain local communities through revitalization and heritage tourism. Utilizing a formula created by the U.S. Department of Commerce that measures the dollars needed to create one job from heritage preservation/tourism jobs in each state, heritage areas have created 16,520 jobs in 32 states through the $171,163,484 federal investment made since the first area was created in the late 1970s.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), one of the authors of the legislation that established the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District in 1996, represents the northern Valley and is a member of the newly-created House caucus.

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields a Model for NHA Concept

Like most other national heritage areas, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District supports the work of federal, state, local agencies and private organizations to develop consensus-based preservation strategies, to interpret important elements of American history, and to promote economic development. However, the Valley’s program, created by Congress in 1996, is unique; because its chief mission is to preserve ten of the region’s nationally-significant battlefields before they are lost, it is authorized to purchase land and preservation easements from willing sellers using federal funds.

Since 2000, more than 3,000 Civil War battlefield acres have been protected in the Valley by the Foundation and its partners. In addition, through its grants to partners, the organization has leveraged more than $2.6 million in other public and private funds for interpretive and promotional projects in the National Historic District, each federal dollar spent in this program has leveraged $3 in return.

“We are grateful once again for Mr. Wolf’s leadership on behalf of the Shenandoah Valley’s battlefields,” says Stern. “The Valley, which is known for its beautiful and historic landscapes, is a perfect example of the benefits of the national heritage areas concept. These places are important pieces of America’s history, and some significant funding to preserve them has been provided by state and local agencies and private organizations. But without the federal investment over the last ten years, we would have lost some of these landscapes. National heritage areas are a great model of the kind of public-private partnership we’ll need as we move into the next century of conservation in the United States.”

Second Century Commission Endorses National Heritage Areas

The national heritage areas concept was also endorsed last year by a blue-ribbon commission created to make recommendations for the next century of the National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016.

Led by former U.S. Sens. Howard H. Baker, Jr. (R-TN) and J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA), the panel found “National Heritage Areas provide a collaborative model that fits well within a large-landscape-scale preservation and conservation framework. Recognizing them as long-term assets to the national park system, we recommend that Congress pass authorizing legislation creating a system of National Heritage Areas providing for permanent funding and directing full program support from the National Park Service to designated areas.”