National Heritage Areas

Images from Erie Canal, Yuma, and Hudson Valley NHAs


Larry Blake and Tony Sculimbrene
Larry Blake and Tony Sculimbrene

Wright plane simulation

kids on Wright simulator

On January 24, 2008 Larry Blake, Superintendent of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and Tony Sculimbrene, Executive Director Aviation Heritage Foundation, Inc. (management entity of National Aviation Heritage Area) participated in an interview about their partnership.

What did you know about each other before you started working together?

Larry Blake: There is a unique situation between the Dayton Park and the National Aviation Heritage Area. When the Dayton Park was created, the legislation also created a national commission, the Dayton Aviation Heritage Federal Commission. The commission had a sunset date of 2003. The Park Service and this federal commission had history of working together right from the very beginning. The park was set up in 1992. The foundation of this national park had its genesis in the community itself, so there was a prior sense of bringing the National Park Service to the community. So when the Park was established with a commission along side of it, that relationship continued to be fostered and continued to grow. It was a learning experience for both the National Park Service and the community. As the sunset date for the commission approached it looked back at its legacy and had to decide what to do next. Did they want to try to extend the life of the commission or choose another path? What they chose was another path which was to explore the possibility of establishing a heritage area and essentially taking the commission into a non-profit status. That lays some of the foundation.

Tony Sculimbrene: Larry and I celebrated our 9th anniversary of working together last Saturday. It's been a pretty solid partnership between the two of us. What did I know about Heritage areas prior to my arrival in 1999? I knew nothing about heritage areas. I knew a fair amount about the National Park Service. I am looking at the original legislation establishing the commission and the language here looks just like the language associated with establishing a heritage area. We were required to do a management plan and to begin building relationships between us and the Park Service. So while we've only been a heritage area since 2004, we've been doing heritage area-like activities as a community since the park was created in 1992. I think from that standpoint we are a little unique. But I also think that one of the positive aspects of the heritage area program is that it isn't a one size fits all program. The areas have all come about in trying to address the specific, unique attributes of a location.

Do you think it benefited the National Historical Park to have the Commission?

Larry Blake: I think it has been absolutely essential for our mission. It was in our original mission statement that we bring together the associated sites having to do with aviation and the Wright brothers. That is an extremely tall order and, quite frankly, the Park Service couldn't do this on its own. We couldn't bring together all these sites without a working relationship with first the commission and now the foundation. Both entities brought all of these partners to the table and provided a platform for the Park Service to begin work with them.

What are some of the more memorable projects you have worked on together over the past 9 years?

Larry Blake: The largest scale one was just getting the park up and running in 2003. We had a goal to have all 4 Park Service units up and running and staffed in time for the centennial of flight in 2003. I'll be honest with you, it was quite a challenge. After Tony and I greeted each other we really had to roll up our sleeves and there was some intensive advocacy that needed to be initiated. Now we are facing the challenge of getting the funds that we need to operate the park and heritage area in the way that congress and the community intended. We also have the challenge of significant historic sites that have been identified, but getting them incorporated is going to take strong efforts from the community.

Tony Sculimbrene: The advantage this partnership has is that it has brought in a broader group of talent than just the Park Service staff. The Park Service had its hands full just trying to get the park operational. The commission helped pick up the slack and do some of the things the Park Service couldn't do. We were able to get some of the facilities restored so that visitors wouldn't be scared to death to come into the park. Now the issue is: how do we operate what we've created given the significant decline in companies and capital and business people here? We're at a crossroads like we've never been before. Thank goodness we do have partners because it gives the Park Service some extra hands in trying to operate in this location.

How do you see yourselves operating as a team to try to bring in some financial backing?

Tony Sculimbrene: One of the things the Park Service really should to do is start marketing their parks. That is an area where the community can step in and help. The mission of the heritage area is to promote the assets of this area. We can bring economic value from that standpoint. All of the partners understand the need to market and everyone is trying to scrape up the dollars to do that. We are trying to bring in the visitors.

Do you think the Dayton site is an example of the Park Service shift to more urban areas as opposed to the iconic idea of the big western National Parks? Is the heritage area helping the park service find its feet in this new arena?

Larry Blake: Yes. I think what's developing is a "new national park service" and we think Dayton is at the forefront of that. The Park Service is shifting away from parks where it owns everything to a new Park Service that partners with the community. We literally own very little here in Dayton and the preservation of these sites is something we have to sit down around the table and agree upon with others - how they're going to be operated and preserved.

What do see in the future for your partnership?

Larry Blake: That's what we're working on now. How do we set it up so it's sustainable into the future? We need to figure out what we can give our partners, be it direct dollars or technical assistance. We have to show them that we can deliver something back to them.

Fast-forward to 2020…how do you perceive the future?

Larry Blake: I would like people to say they enjoyed visiting Dayton and all our sites as much as they enjoyed visiting Yellowstone. I think if we get the infrastructure working and good, talented people working here we could be as interesting as any other park in the country.

What advice would you offer to superintendants whose parks are in newly designated heritage areas?

Larry Blake: I would say run towards them as fast as you can and embrace them. They are your future. Heritage Areas and partnerships are our future. They are the new Park Service… If you've got a community that is actually interested in this on their own then we need to be as supportive of this as we can. Our success is going to be based upon the success of our partners and we need to be doing everything that we can to make sure that the Heritage Areas are healthy and sound.

What advice would you give a new heritage area about building a partnership with the Park Service?

Tony Sculimbrene: The Park Service represents the crème de la crème of people who know how to do interpretation and development of exhibits to tell America's story. Even without funds from the National Park Service, just that expertise has a fair amount of value to any community. There's no substitute for the dedication of the NPS employees. That is something that has genuinely benefitted the community here in Dayton

    Listen to Tony Sculimbrene on the origins of the National Aviation Heritage Area.


    Larry Blake discusses how the Heritage Area has been critical in helping his park accomplish it's mission.


    Tony Sculimbrene on the uniqueness of heritage areas.


    Larry Blake gives advice on how parks should embrace heritage area partners.