WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 13, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — December 13, 2021
WASHINGTON, DC – The Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA) is urging Congress to pass the National Heritage Area Act, which will provide certainty and steady funding for America’s National Heritage Areas (NHAs). S. 1942 – the National Heritage Area Act – is sponsored by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). Similar bipartisan legislation (H.R. 1316) introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and David McKinley (R-WV) passed the House earlier this year. More than 630 letters from existing NHAs to community stakeholders were submitted to the National Parks Subcommittee on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources ahead of an October hearing on S. 1942.
ANHA developed this short video to explain the value of NHAs and why a uniform reauthorization process is critical for their futures.
The National Heritage Act would establish a uniform and steady stream of funding for National Heritage Areas, ensuring NHAs will continue to foster economic revitalization and celebrate and examine American history, natural beauty, culture, and industry. The legislation would also create an improved and streamlined process for designating new NHAs. The National Heritage Area Act not only ensures accountability through periodic independent, National Park Service-led evaluations of National Heritage Areas but also strengthens the private property protections that already exist in individual NHA authorizations.
“From Niagara Falls to the Lower Colorado River in Arizona, from the Kenai Mountains in Alaska to the marshes and islands of the Southern Atlantic home to the Gullah Geechee people, National Heritage Areas celebrate all aspects of America,” said Sara Capen, Vice Chair of ANHA and Executive Director of the Niagara Falls NHA.“Unfortunately, the future of these landmarks is constantly in question due to a reauthorization process that puts federal matching funds at risk. Congress can protect current and proposed National Heritage Areas by passing the National Heritage Area Act.”
President Ronald Reagan established National Heritage Areas in 1984 when he signed a bill creating the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Area. Since then, 54 additional NHAs have been established across the United States, all through local, community-led efforts. Rather than an enclosed park as is typical of other programs administered by the National Park Service (NPS), NHAs are lived-in spaces that often span large geographic areas that cross multiple jurisdictions, including a total of 591 counties in 34 states.
NHAs are administered by a local coordinating entity and receive matching funds through the National Park Service but are not National Park units. Importantly, they do not impact the private property rights of existing landowners within or adjacent to an NHA designation. In addition to Congressionally authorized matching funds, NPS provides technical assistance and a strong partnership. A 2012 study determined that NHAs are responsible for a nearly $13 billion economic impact in the communities they serve while supporting 150,000 jobs.
“Congress has an opportunity to show bipartisan leadership by passing the National Heritage Area Act,” said Rolando Herts, Executive Director, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, headquartered at The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. “Whether it is celebrating the history and origins of blues music or exploring the struggle for Civil Rights, NHAs bring tremendous economic and cultural benefits to the regions they serve and to every corner of the United States. We can’t afford to risk these community partnerships through an uncertain and inconsistent reauthorization process. Congress should pass the National Heritage Act as soon as possible.”
NHAs are subject to regular reauthorization, typically through individual bills. The current process leaves much to chance and the uncertainties of the Congressional calendar. Indeed, the authorizations – and federal matching funds – for 30 NHAs were set to expire at the end of the last fiscal year (September 30) or shortly thereafter. However, a legislative provision that extends the authorization for these expiring NHAs was included in the Continuing Resolutions (CRs) passed by Congress in late September and early December. Still, with the current CR in effect only through February, there is still a need to enact a solution that provides certainty and a steady stream of funding for NHAs. Passing the National Heritage Area Act will address a nearly annual challenge that NHAs face.
For more information about National Heritage Areas and their reauthorization process, please visit the FAQ page on ANHA’s website.
The Alliance of National Heritage Areas works collectively to protect and promote the people and places that tell America’s stories. We are a membership organization of congressionally designated National Heritage Areas and partner-affiliated organizations promoting the professionalism and benefits of the program through education and advocacy. Together, we facilitate and celebrate partnerships that improve our effectiveness and impact.