The administration of President Ronald Reagan supported the National Heritage Area (NHA) concept as a cost-effective way of telling America’s stories and conserving the nation’s cultural, natural, and historic resources. Since 1984, this approach has been validated as 55 communities around the country have developed dynamic partnerships among local governments, nonprofit groups, and businesses.
Despite their widespread support, National Heritage Areas are constantly experiencing sunsets to their federal funding. This year, an unprecedented 30 NHAs are threatened with a sunset, unless we can reauthorize support now.
Under the current federal legislative model, National Heritage Areas are subject to individual sunset clauses, after which they lose federal funding. For too long now, the lack of a long-term legislative solution has led to a challenging two-year cycle of reauthorizations of individual Heritage Areas. This requires significant, ongoing work and attention from Congressional Committees, Members of Congress, the National Park Service, and National Heritage Area boards and their staffs
This Fall, we have an opportunity to address this cycle by passing The National Heritage Area Act of 2021 (S. 1942 / H.R. 1316). This legislation would solve the constant sunsetting problem and is vitally important to the stability of the 55 National Heritage Areas that currently exist.
We Support The National Heritage Area Act of 2021
The National Heritage Area Act of 2021 would establish a system of National Heritage Areas and confirm their position as an integral part of the National Park Service. The Senate bill extends authorization in perpetuity, while the House bill extends authorization for 15 years. Both allocate standard funding to each NHA in the system. Both will also ensure uniform standards for the way NHAs are funded, designated, managed, and assessed and provide Congress with an enhanced ability to conduct oversight of the program. Both include language codifying the protection of private property rights within NHAs.
Most significantly, this legislation removes the never-ending cycle of funding uncertainty, which regularly takes time and energy away from the important work NHAs do in communities across the country.
In particular, The National Heritage Area Act of 2021 will:
- Authorize funds for the existing 55 National Heritage Areas for an extended duration.
- 1942 would allocate $1 million in annual funds per Heritage Area
- R. 1316 would allocate $750,000 in annual funds per Heritage Area.
- Create a streamlined and consistent process for the designation of new Heritage Areas.
- Create consistent oversight and rigorous review process to ensure the Heritage Areas are fulfilling their missions to the American people with transparency and accountability.
- Affirm the sanctity of private property rights.
- Reauthorize the 30 NHAs currently in limbo
- Authorize funds for the existing 55 National Heritage Areas for an extended duration.
National Heritage Areas Make Good Cents
The National Heritage Area program has proven to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars. NHAs are one of the Department of the Interior’s most cost-effective initiatives by relying on public-private partnerships.
In fact, every federal dollar is matched with an average of $5.50 in other funding sources. These public-private partnerships created a nearly $13 billion annual economic impact, based on the findings of a 2012 study. Thanks in large part to their non-federal support, National Heritage Areas represent less than one percent of the National Park Service’s budget.
For more information on the National Heritage Areas Act of 2021, please contact Miranda Miller in Representative Tonko’s office (202) 225-5076 or Christian Graf in Senator Stabenow’s office (202) 224-4822.
National Heritage Areas support tens of thousands of jobs and contribute billions of dollars to local economies.
NHAs are catalysts for economic development in the communities in which they are located. NHAs are affiliated with the National Park Service and are managed by independent Federal Commissions, nonprofit groups, or state or municipal authorities. They implement projects through public/private partnerships with a variety of stakeholders, and collaborate with state and local governments to ensure that the regional goals of cultural, historical and natural resource protection are met. In the process, NHAs strive to improve the quality of life in their regions by fostering the development of sustainable economies.
An independent 2012 study by Tripp Umbach found that NHAs’ overall annual economic impact in the U.S. is $12.9 billion, which significantly exceeds the amount of federal funding provided to NHAs by as much as 5:1. The economic impact is comprised of three main areas: tourism, operational expenditures and grantmaking activities; the majority of impact (99%) is generated by tourism spending.
The economic impact was significant in two ways:
- $4.6 billion in direct impact, which includes tourist spending, NHA operational expenditures and grantmaking activities
- $8.3 billion in indirect and induced impacts, which includes employee spending and businesses supporting the tourism industry.
“National Heritage Areas are places where small investments pay huge dividends, providing demonstrable benefits in communities across the country and in partnership with our National Parks.” —Jon Jarvis
Independent evaluations of National Heritage Areas demonstrate strength and effectiveness of the program.
At the request of Congress, the National Park Service commissioned a series of evaluations reviewing the accomplishments of 12 of the earliest designated NHAs. These evaluations conducted by an external evaluation firm document impressive accomplishments in a limited time frame over expansive geographic areas. Generally, the evaluations reported positive findings. Each of these NHAs is meeting the goals identified in its authorizing legislation through dynamic partnerships and is leveraging its NPS funding by as much as 5:1. NPS funds were identified as the consistent and flexible seed month for projects and programs.
“The next 100 years are about renewing connections with lifelong park goers while reaching out to new audiences, from urban communities to children and teens. Inspiring a new generation of park enthusiasts is the key to building a nation that invests in its great places.” —Nextcenturyforparks.org
Demonstrate Fiscal Responsibility: Every NHA met or exceeded the required match to the NPS fund. In many cases, NHAs leveraged significant investment dollars for the program and capital projects.
Preserve Nationally Significant Resources: Evaluations documented that all NHAs were conserving and interpreting cultural and natural resources of national significance.
Rely on Public Participation and Partnerships: Reports confirm that NHAs implement their management plans through partnerships with a high level of continued citizen involvement in all their work with the public.
The National Park Service is an Important Partner: NHAs received invaluable technical assistance in their programming from NPS.
Show Effective Management: Reports noted that, in general, the leaders of NHA organizations have exceptional skill in partnership development, strategic planning and longevity with their organization and have established themselves as reliable and credible partners in the communities where they work.
Provide Lessons in Working at a Landscape Scale: Many NHAs documented an increase in connectivity and understanding of the regional framework and the importance of their preservation.
We celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage.
We create experiences that stimulate cultural equity.
We empower inclusive communities to tell their stories.
The Alliance of National Heritage Areas is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our membership organization of Congressionally-designated National Heritage Areas and partner-affiliated organizations works collectively to protect and promote diverse people and places that tell America’s stories equitably and inclusively.
We define diversity as meaningful representation of different groups in cultural heritage development, included but not limited to race, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical/mental ability, ethnicity, geography, and perspective.
We define equity as policies and practices that help communities gain access to opportunity, networks, and resources toward reaching their full cultural heritage development potential.
We define inclusion as authentic engagement of diverse groups in cultural heritage development, providing all community members with a genuine sense of belonging.
We are the Heart & Soul of America. We are the Alliance of National Heritage Areas.
Letter from Sara Capen, Chair of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas
National Heritage Areas are places that tell a rich and diverse American story. As venues that hold this particular distinction, we serve as keepers of America’s stories. We are the entities where people, place and history converge. For too long, “distinctly American” meant only one side of the story—a conventional but flawed textbook version of history. History is not simple and cannot be represented in a single picture or a paragraph. Behind monuments and portraits is a legacy that is much more complex. We Americans have a difficult history—a history that cannot and should not simply be ignored because it is hard or uncomfortable.
Through our work, National Heritage Areas empower people to tell their stories in their words within the framework of their American experience. Now, more than ever, our role is vital to the people and places we serve. Through our collective efforts, we remind our neighbors and visitors that history is never “long ago and far away” but an arc to today where the impact of history still lives on in communities. National Heritage Areas preserve, protect and share difficult stories that every American should be required to know like the story of Emmett Till, the Mother Emanuel AME Church, the Japanese Internment Camp at Topaz, and so many more.
It is through our grassroots work and partnerships that we spark conversations across generations and among disparate groups about our collective American history, a complex history ranging from the brutality of the Trail of Tears to the triumphs of the United Farm Workers.
It is in doing so that we hope to foster not only a stewardship of place but a stewardship of history where every American can find their own story woven into the tapestry of America. Whether
it is voices of resistance or resilience, innovation or upheaval, National Heritage Areas will continue to work to uncover the invisible and untold stories to ensure that “distinctly American” means the stories of all Americans.
Letter from Lowell Perry, Chair of the Alliance’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee
I am the son of the former Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Gerald Ford, a Yale graduate, Executive Director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, and Chair of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee for the Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA). Our network of 55 Heritage Areas from all across the country is bringing the importance of conservation and historic preservation to the success of the so-called American Experiment to the forefront. Our long-time stewardship of the historic contributions of black, brown, Asian and indigenous people, make us uniquely qualified to help bridge the conversation gap in finding solutions for the racial injustice which still infects this country. Historically accurate and complete storytelling from the perspective of the protagonists themselves, and not through just the lens of their colonizers—which has typically been the case—will better ensure a rich dialogue on difficult subjects.
Like you, I grapple with what the appropriate action to take individually, and collectively, in support of the justifiable national unrest, should be. Our country is dealing with two viruses. COVID-19 and Racism-20. We will get through the former by following the safety protocols outlined by public health professionals. The latter virus is a much tougher and more complex dragon to slay. Yet slay it together we must. The telling of our respective stories will ensure each citizen understands more about who the real forgotten people in this country have been, and add value to the narrative.
It is our duty as National Heritage Areas to tell accurate and inclusive stories. In order for us to be honest brokers in a national conversation, we must first hold the mirror up to ourselves and ensure we are walking the talk. This special edition of Heart & Soul is an introduction to ANHA as an organization, as well as our intention to be more actively involved in actual solutions to eradicate the insidious virus called racism that continues to choke the life out of its host – America. We are in it for the long haul to be positive influences and tireless advocates for what is right, and for the noble ideal of equal justice under law for all.