STATEMENT OF KATHERINE STEVENSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCE STEWARDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIPS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, RECREATION AND PUBLIC LANDS, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 2388, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE CRITERIA AND MECHANISM FOR THE DESIGNATION AND SUPPORT OF NATIONAL HERITAGE AREAS.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department on H.R. 2388. This bill creates a definition and a structure for the study, designation, management, funding, and sunset of national heritage areas.
The Department sincerely appreciates your efforts to work with the National Park Service to create a bill that meets the needs of heritage areas across the country. You have been very willing to discuss various alternatives and have integrated many of the changes the National Park Service recommended into this bill. The Department supports the creation of a framework for the establishment and management of national heritage areas as proposed in H.R. 2388. Such a framework is needed to maintain a rigorous standard, so that future national heritage areas meet all the appropriate criteria. We also believe it is important that heritage areas continue to be initiated and supported at the local level. The Administration will follow up with suggested amendments to encourage the establishment of locally supported heritage areas.
Heritage areas implement that part of the National Park Service’s mission statement that speaks to cooperation and partnership "…to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world." Heritage areas embody partnerships that blend education, cultural conservation, and resource preservation, recreation and community revitalization, which are all integral parts of our work.
Interest in heritage areas and corridors is growing. In the past two years, the number of national heritage areas has increased from 18 to 23. In the 107th Congress so far, nine bills have been introduced to study the feasibility of heritage area designation or to actually designate a region. In addition, the National Park Service has nine feasibility or special resource studies already underway related to potential heritage areas including the Upper Housatonic River Valley in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and the Crossroads of the American Revolution in New Jersey. It is important to emphasize, however, that funding for heritage areas is limited, so new areas can only be funded to the extent that established areas become self-sufficient and no longer need the same level of financial support. Finally, there has been a positive growth in state heritage programs including newcomers like Maryland, Louisiana, and Utah.
Interest in the heritage areas is growing because they work. The heritage area strategy is based on a shared vision for the future grounded in the best of the past. At their best, these heritage partnerships engage local governments who have never planned for the future around a shared past. At their best, they bring together a host of federal, state, and local partners to remediate brownfields, reinvigorate main streets, institute educational curriculum that draw from local history, and demonstrate that environmental lessons are just outside our back door. Heritage partnerships encourage regional interpretation and reinvigorate local tourist offerings with real and authentic experiences.
The recent National Park System Advisory Board report "Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century" hails heritage areas for their Federal and local partnerships to conserve and commemorate distinctive regional landscapes. It recognizes the benefits in preserving resources outside of park boundaries by the people who live there with the assistance of the National Park Service.
For these reasons, we believe that generic legislation would be valuable as a way to provide for the development and designation of national heritage areas. A number of provisions of H.R. 2388 reflect our cooperative effort to develop such a program, including the contents of a feasibility study, the need for public involvement throughout the process, the elements of a management plan, and the need to effectively identify a management entity or local coordinating entity. All of these principles would provide useful guidance to communities in developing a strategy to create a heritage area and to Congress in evaluating an area for designation or funding. H.R. 2388 provides some good, solid building blocks for a program, but more could be done to ensure the process maintains high standards for new areas and relies on the support and initiative of local communities.
The National Park Service has been looking at the issue of heritage conservation for many years and is now engaged in various levels of management and technical assistance in heritage partnerships located all around the country. In the past, we worked with members of Congress and communities on legislation similar to H.R. 2388 that, if enacted, would have provided general guidelines for the establishment and management of national heritage areas. We believe that it is a valuable goal to establish a national program that enforces these guidelines while encouraging communities that take the initiative to protect their natural, cultural, historic, scenic, and recreational resources.
The Administration would like to follow up in writing with specific recommendations on H.R. 2388. For example, we would like to clarify that the role of the National Park Service in the heritage area program is to assist -- not lead -- communities in assessing their resources and in planning for their conservation and interpretation. As well, we would like to clarify the obligations of other federal agencies under section 11(b) and reconcile the tension between the language of sections 13(a) and 13(b).
We strongly believe that attention must be paid to maintaining standards for future heritage area designations. In our work with heritage area studies and designations, we have begun to incorporate provisions found in H.R. 2388, such as basing our feasibility studies on criteria outlined in the bill. We very much appreciate the interest of this committee and look forward to working with you to identify the parameters necessary to make heritage areas successful and accountable.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment. This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.