March 13, 2003



Mr. Chairman, it is my pleasure to be here today to discuss the National Park Service’s National Heritage Area Program, to update you on the accomplishments of the 23 existing areas, and to offer recommendations for improvements to the program. 


A ‘National Heritage Area’ is a place designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography.  These patterns make national heritage areas representative of the national experience through the physical features that remain and the traditions that have evolved in them.  Continued use of national heritage areas by people whose traditions helped to shape the landscapes enhances their significance.


A recent National Park Service survey shows that almost 45 million people across 17 states live within a national heritage area.  Heritage areas are just one of a growing number of collaborative, community-based conservation strategies that have developed in recent years to identify, preserve, and interpret resources.  By establishing a heritage area, communities work in partnership across jurisdictional boundaries to plan for their future, based on their shared heritage from the past. 

It is important to clarify that the Federal Government does not assume ownership of land, impose zoning or land use controls in heritage areas, or take responsibility for permanent funding.  In most areas the authorizing legislation prohibits the management entity from acquiring property with funding appropriated for the heritage area.  In addition, the authorizing legislation provides private property owners with specific protection. This guarantees that it will be the responsibility of the people living within a heritage area to ensure that the heritage area’s resources are protected, interpreted and preserved.

Almost twenty years have passed since the designation of the first national heritage area, the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.  Since that time, Congress has authorized a total of 23 national heritage areas, and absent generic criteria, the authorizing legislation has taken a variety of forms.  While the earliest heritage area bills resulted in several different management and funding structures, the heritage areas created since 1996 have become more standardized in how they are studied, designated, managed, and funded. It is appropriate today to look at the 23 existing heritage areas and evaluate how this collaboration between local communities and the National Park Service is working. With the growing interest in additional national heritage area designations, it is also timely to look at the process by which new areas are evaluated for consideration.

The Department of the Interior supports the heritage area approach for preserving resources because it is based on locally driven partnerships that emphasize local control of land.  We recognize that protection of parks and the conservation of special places is greatly enhanced when the people who live in the region and are uniquely qualified to care for them are involved.  Heritage areas embody partnerships that blend education, cultural conservation, resource preservation, recreation, and community revitalization, which are all integral parts of the mission of the National Park Service.  The Secretary has made partnerships integral to the Department’s efforts to preserve and protect all of our natural, cultural and recreational programs.  Recently First Lady Laura Bush announced “Preserve America”, a new White House initiative that pursues “…partnerships with State and local governments, Indian tribes, and the private sector to promote the preservation of the unique cultural heritage of communities and of the Nation…”  

Our experience over the past two decades has led us to make the following observations about the process for the study, designation, and management of national heritage areas. To be successful, all heritage area initiatives must be developed and shaped by local people and by local initiative.  Some of these heritage proposals also seek the support and assistance of the National Park Service through designation as a national heritage area or corridor.  To warrant our involvement, these areas should tell nationally important stories through a regionally distinctive combination of natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources and provide outstanding opportunities for resource conservation.  When appropriate they should also strengthen, complement, and support existing units of the National Park System.

Criteria are needed to assist communities and the National Park Service in assessing the appropriate direction for national heritage area proposals.  In past testimonies, we have identified the specific steps for national heritage designation and the components of a useful suitability and feasibility study.  These have been field-tested and have shown themselves to be valuable, yet they have never been formalized.  They are included as a possible starting point for any future efforts to set some criteria and standards for the establishment and management of national heritage areas.

The National Park Service has outlined four critical steps that need to be taken and documented prior to congressional designation of a national heritage area. These 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.

A suitability and feasibility study would determine that an area contains resources of national importance, and should include a number of the components we believe are helpful for public review.  Our experience has also shown the importance of completing the suitability and feasibility study before a heritage area is designated.  The most helpful components of a suitability and feasibility study include analysis and documentation that show:

1.      An area has an assemblage of natural, historic, or cultural resources that together represent distinctive aspects of American heritage worthy of recognition, conservation, interpretation, and continuing use, and are best managed as such an assemblage through partnerships among public and private entities, and by combining diverse and sometimes noncontiguous resources and active communities;

2.      Reflects traditions, customs, beliefs, and folk life that are a valuable part of the national story;

3.      Provides outstanding opportunities to conserve natural, cultural, historic, and /or scenic features;

4.      Provides outstanding recreational and educational opportunities;

5.      The resources important to the identified theme or themes of the area retain a degree of integrity capable of supporting interpretation;

6.      Residents, business interests, non-profit organizations, and governments within the proposed area are involved in the planning, have developed a conceptual financial plan that outlines the roles for all participants including the federal government, and have demonstrated support for designation of the area;

7.      The proposed management entity and units of government supporting the designation are willing to commit to working in partnership to develop the heritage area;

8.      The proposal is consistent with continued economic activity in the area;

9.      A conceptual boundary map is supported by the public; and

10.  The management entity proposed to plan and implement the project is described.

We believe that only when an area has been studied and can satisfy these criteria, should it be designated as a national heritage area.

Upon designation, an area must develop a management plan to serve as a road map for all stakeholders that support the vision for the area.  The plan must be developed within the timeframe specified in the legislation (usually 3-5 years) and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. For designated areas, the National Park Service’s role is to work with the area on the management plan that will guide the heritage development of the region; to enter into a cooperative agreement that defines our partnership role and is amended each year to allocate appropriated funds for the identified projects that will be undertaken to further the plan; to monitor the expenditure of funds, to ensure that the funds are matched and meet all other requirements; and to review annual reports prepared by each management entity. The National Park Service, along with other Federal land managing agencies, can bring national recognition to the areas and provide other technical assistance on a case-by-case basis. 

Funding for the national heritage areas has grown along with the program.  The formula under which many areas were authorized provided funding of up to $10 million over 15 years.  In general, newly designated areas start with more modest funding as they develop their management plans and then receive increased support until they are well established.  Ultimately, heritage areas are supposed to become self-sufficient, so that available National Park Service funding can be shifted toward more recently designated areas.  In fiscal year 2003, the 23 areas are slated to receive $14,374,000 through the National Park Service.  We continue to recommend that each heritage area be capped at $1 million per year, not to exceed $10 million overall.

While the National Park Service and heritage area partners have tested the above criteria, have forged a role for the agency in the planning process and can demonstrate impressive leveraging and conservation successes for specific resources, we still have a lot to learn. More difficult to measure is the increase in residents and visitors participating in programs and activities supported by the heritage areas. At this time, the National Park Service, in partnership with the Alliance of National Heritage Areas, is working with Michigan State University to adapt the National Park Service’s “Money Generation Model” used by park units to test impacts on a regional scale. The model will be tested on eight heritage areas this summer and fall.  Even more difficult to measure is the effect the heritage area approach, working in partnership with so many organizations in a region, has on quality of life, community pride and civic engagement.  As the partnership model becomes a way of business for all National Park Service programs, we would like to study these experiences as they relate to heritage areas to improve our ability to collaborate. 


The National Park Service recognizes national heritage areas as important partners for adjacent park units who are assisted by giving the community a voice in telling the larger story of a region, by building a common understanding and a vision for the future, and by encouraging local stewardship of key resources.  For example, the newly designated Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park tells a specific story of a crucial battle of the Civil War, yet is also part of the larger Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District.  Gateway communities in particular can benefit from heritage planning that reinvigorates local tourist offerings with real and authentic experiences.  The heritage area approach is one more link in a national network of parks and conservation areas between important natural resources and the people who live and work in gateway communities.

National heritage areas have significance and value in their own right.  They encompass some of the most important cultural landscapes in the nation exemplified by the Hudson River Valley and the Shenandoah Valley.  They also tell stories of national significance such as the rise of the automobile industry in the “Motor Cities” of Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Ypsilanti that “put the world on wheels.” Or the story of big steel in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in Pennsylvania, an industry that made possible railroads, skyscrapers, and shipbuilding activities across the nation. It is noteworthy that over 20% of all the National Historic Landmarks in the nation are located in national heritage areas. 

Of importance to everyone is the financial impact of heritage area designation.  National heritage areas are cost-effective because they can facilitate the leveraging of funds and resources for the conservation of natural, cultural, and historic values.  Since 1985, Congress has appropriated $107,225,378 to the National Park Service under the Heritage Partnership Program to support heritage area projects and programs. This allocation has leveraged  $929,097,491 in non-National Park Service partnership funds, an impressive 1 to 8.7 match. A well-established heritage area will have a wide range of funding sources; for example, the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor in Pennsylvania recently issued a report that showed the following profile of partnership funding: 8% National Park Service ($4,302,200), 22% U.S. Department of Transportation Enhancement Funds ($13,051,794), 37 % State ($21,705,164), 17% Local Government ($9,952,061), and 16% private ($9,173,046).  The partnership approach of national heritage areas attracts a flexible mix of funding that reflects both needs and opportunities.

In keeping with the regional scale of national heritage areas, they have been able to take a broader perspective and tackle projects in multiple jurisdictions.  In the areas of education and interpretation, almost all heritage areas have strong programs that reach out to visitors and residents across the landscape.  Silos & Smokestacks recently won a national award from the National Association for Interpretation for their educational web site on agriculture “Camp Silos”, which reaches not just the 37 counties in Iowa, but users from around the world.  Greenways and trail projects are also best done on a regional basis. Outstanding work has been done completing the Great Allegheny Passage trail from Washington to Pittsburgh by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area; in adding over seventy miles of trail north and south of Cuyahoga National Park by the Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor; and in developing the Schuylkill River Water Trail recently designated as a National Recreation Trail.

To assist local partners, 14 of the national heritage areas administer grants programs for heritage and historic preservation planning and rehabilitation projects. Over 66 Save America’s Treasures grants have been awarded through the assistance of national heritage areas, including two administered by the Cane River National Heritage Area for the Prufhome-Rouquierer House and Melrose Plantation.  Heritage areas also work to sustain regional economies through heritage tourism initiatives, which illustrates that environmental protection and economic progress can be complementary goals.  For instance, at the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, the management of waterpower along the canal maintains the area’s traditional economy.

One of the trends in the growth of the heritage area movement is the increased interest in conservation, based on community collaboration.  This is particularly true in the west where potential heritage areas in New Mexico, Nevada and Utah propose to tell the story of the peopling of the west in a multiple-use environment.  Many of these new proposals include large swaths of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other Federal land managing agencies.  These agencies will be important partners in the coordination of these new western heritage areas.

Heritage area partnerships are also becoming more diverse.  As they move west, tribal organizations are becoming partners as seen in Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area where the Quetchan Nation has contributed significant funding to rehabilitating a historic bridge over the Colorado River and is working with the heritage area on a major wetland restoration project. Finally, there has been a positive growth in state heritage programs including newcomers like Maryland, Louisiana, and Utah.  In all, eight states across the country have state heritage programs.

Heritage areas are inclusive of diverse peoples and their cultures because they encompass living landscapes and the traditional uses of the land.  For example, the National Park Service is conducting a study for a potential heritage area to recognize the Low County Gullah Geechee, a geographically isolated community of African Americans who have retained a distinct Creole language and traditional practices with elements that are traceable to the rice coast of West Africa.  A special resource study conducted in Louisiana has led to the designation of the multicultural Atchafalaya basin as a state heritage area.

After almost two decades of experience with the National Heritage Area Program, we support the development of criteria and standards for the establishment and management of these heritage areas.  National heritage areas are not units of the National Park System and, as demonstrated by the examples above, a proscribed, narrowly defined strategy will not permit the flexibility we need to manage the program.  A broad framework that emphasizes the overall goal of resource conservation, that is locally driven and shaped by communities in partnership with Department of the Interior agencies such as the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and that maintains rigorous standards for future national heritage areas should be the goal of any proposed generic heritage area legislation.  We would welcome the opportunity to work with this committee on developing such a framework.


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.