APRIL 4, 2000

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to present the position of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 2833, a bill to establish the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.

We support the concepts presented in the legislation. However, we would like to work with the committee and the Yuma Heritage Task Force to refine the language as outlined in this testimony so that it ensures that the resources of the National Park Service, as well as the proposed Heritage Area are efficiently used to focus and protect the important resources of this area.

H.R. 2833 would create the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area in Yuma, Arizona. The establishment is based on work that has been conducted for more than twenty years by the city and county of Yuma, culminating in an executive summary in 1999 prepared by the Heritage Task Force, a cross-section of citizens in the region. The report and previous work conducted in Yuma has also included organizations, agencies and potential partners in the creation and management of a National Heritage Area.

This bill calls for the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a compact with the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area management entity for the purposes of further refining the area's goals and objectives and outlining the protection measures that will guide the management entity's efforts. H.R. 2833 calls for the development and approval of a management plan for the Heritage Area. If the plan is not submitted within three years, the Heritage Area becomes ineligible for Federal funding. The bill also outlines the duties of the management entity and prohibits them from using Federal funds to acquire real property or interests in real property. It authorizes the management entity to spend Federal funds on non-federally owned property. At the request of the management entity, the Secretary would be authorized to provide technical and financial assistance to develop and implement the management plan. H.R. 2833 authorizes appropriations and limits Federal funding to 50 percent of the total cost of any assistance or grant and bars the Secretary from providing any assistance under this Act after September 30, 2015.

The National Park Service has defined a National Heritage Area as a place where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity. Heritage conservation efforts are grounded in a community's pride in its history and traditions, and its interest in seeing them retained. Preserving the integrity of the cultural landscape and local stories means that future generations of the community will be able to understand and define who they are, where they come from, and what ties them to their home. Heritage areas are designed to protect large, regional landscapes and resources that tell the story of its residents.

The National Park Service testified before this committee last October 26 on H.R. 2532, a bill that would provide a process for the establishment of national heritage areas. We outlined four critical steps that needed to be completed prior to designation. Those steps are:

    1. completion of a suitability/feasibility study;
    2. public involvement in the suitability/feasibility study;
    3. demonstration of widespread public support among heritage area residents for the proposed designation; and
    4. commitment to the proposal from the appropriate players which may include governments, industry, and private, non-profit organizations, in addition to the local citizenry.

We believe H.R. 2833 meets a large portion of the intent and spirit of those steps.

Much of the work Yuma has done in studying and developing popular support for this proposal has been accomplished without the involvement of the National Park Service or a traditional suitability and feasibility study. However, it has built upon work, studies and reports that have identified natural, historic, and cultural resources representing a distinct, and yet familiar story of the development and settlement of the west. These efforts have also identified new recreational and educational opportunities such as a river walk, and wetlands restoration projects. The studies and projects have incorporated the time and efforts of thousands of citizens, the City and Chamber of Commerce for Yuma, local tribes, historical societies, state parks, community development groups, and members of the Cocopah Tribe. In essence these groups have made great strides in accomplishing the goals of a National Park Service suitability study in a unique way.

More than 150 natural and cultural resources within the proposed boundary for the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area have been identified. These resources tell the story of the growth and development of an area from ancient times to the present - all focused and based around the Colorado River and the natural crossing of that river that drew ancient and modern man alike to the place. Nearly 1,000 acres of wetlands have been identified for protection and improvement for native vegetation and wildlife, which will enhance opportunities for birding and birding festivals. A natural history museum would focus interest and educational opportunities on the role this riparian environment plays in the middle of the Sonoran Desert; while river walks link parks, the historic Arizona Territorial State Prison, and downtown Yuma.

As mentioned earlier, we would recommend revising the legislation to incorporate some of the concepts found in S. 1998, the Senate companion to this bill. S. 1998 defines the boundary of the proposed heritage area. It also takes a multi-agency approach to completing a master plan based upon studies that meet National Park Service criteria. Along with these concepts we recommend including a definition of the management entity to ensure that it reflects the cross-section of agencies, organizations, citizens and governments essential to any heritage area's success. We also suggest expanding the findings section to more fully describe the area's resources.

We believe that the natural and cultural resources protected in this proposal are well documented and retain integrity. They will provide for recreational and educational opportunities, and help tell the story of the development of the west, a critical part of this nation's heritage and identity that still defines us today.

We look forward to working with the committee to refine the language of the bill to reflect the principles outlined in our testimony.

I would be happy to respond to any questions that you may have.