National Heritage Areas FAQs

How do National Heritage Areas work?

National Heritage Areas (NHA) expand on traditional approaches to resource stewardship by supporting large-scale, community driven initiatives that connect local citizens to the preservation and planning process.

What is the role of the National Park Service?

The National Park Service (NPS) provides technical, planning and limited financial assistance to National Heritage Areas. The NPS is a partner and advisor, leaving decision-making authority in the hands of local people and organizations.

The NPS National Heritage Areas staff in the regional offices and Washington D.C. are available to help answer any questions about the program.

How is it different from a National Park?

A National Heritage Area is not a unit of the National Park Service, nor is any land owned or managed by the NPS. National Park Service involvement is always advisory in nature.

How does a region become a National Heritage Area?

National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress. Each National Heritage Area is governed by separate authorizing legislation and operates under provisions unique to its resources and desired goals. For an area to be considered for designation, certain key elements must be present. First and foremost, the landscape must have nationally distinctive natural, cultural, and historic resources that, when linked together, tell a unique story about our country. It is strongly recommended that a feasibility study be conducted prior to and designation attempt. The feasibilisty study provides the U.S. Congress and the NPS with the information they need to determine if designation is suitable. 

How do communities benefit from the National Heritage Area designation?

The designation has both tangible and intangible benefits. Heritage conservation efforts are grounded in a community's pride in its history and traditions, and in residents' interest and involvement in retaining and interpreting the landscape for future generations. It offers a collaborative approach to conservation that does not compromise traditional local control over and use of the landscape. Designation comes with limited financial and technical assistance from the National Park Service.

Why utilize the heritage areas strategy?

The heritage area concept offers an innovative method for citizens, in partnership with local, state, and Federal government, and nonprofit and private sector interests, to shape the long-term future of their communities. The partnership approach creates the opportunity for a diverse range of constituents to come together to voice a range of visions and perspectives. Partners collaborate to develop a management plan and implement a strategy that focuses on the distinct qualities that make their region special.

What kinds of activities does a National Heritage Area offer to outside visitors?

National Heritage Areas appeal to all ages and interests. Some have opportunities for walking, hiking, biking and paddling. Some have festivals to attend and museums to visit. Many Areas provide volunteer opportunities, group tours, and multiple-day excursions and can also be visited in combination with National Park units.