The administration of President Ronald Reagan supported the National Heritage Area concept as a cost-effective way of telling America’s stories and conserving the nation’s cultural, natural, and historic resources. For the past 30 years, this approach has been validated as 49 communities around the country have developed dynamic partnerships among local governments, nonprofit groups, and businesses.

Funding for National Heritage Areas, however, has lagged far behind the needs and popularity of the program. An enhanced level of funding of $32 million will ensure that all current areas can continue their important work of telling America’s stories at the grass-roots level.

The Alliance of National Heritage Areas has previously worked with staff at the National Park Service and members of Congress to develop program legislation for National Heritage Areas. In the last session of Congress, the legislation drew broad bipartisan support of more than 60 House members from 24 states — support which is expected to grow in the current session. The legislation has been reintroduced by Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) as H.R. 1049. Less than a month into the 116th Congress, more than 50 representatives cosponsored the bill.

What does the National Heritage Area Act of 2019 (H.R. 1049) do?

    • Establishes a standardized set criteria for new NHAs
    • Establishes a rigorous process for existing NHAs to ensure accountability
    • Modernizes the program to ensure long-term sustainability with an initial program authorization period of 20 years
    • Replaces a haphazard system of funding caps with an annual authorization amount of $700,000 for each and every National Heritage Area
    • Clearly defines an oversight structure that will allow these popular public/private partnerships to better preserve the nation’s heritage and spur economic growth with basic federal support
    • Remains consistent with recommendations of both the Bush and Obama administrations

To learn more about the legislation, become a co-sponsor, or join the Congressional Caucus, please contact:

Emily Duhovny Silverberg
Legislative Assistant
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)
P: (202) 225-5076


Sydney Pettit
Legislative Assistant
Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)
P: (202) 225-4172


regional economic development: Essex National Heritage Area

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

environmental stewardship: Champlain Valley national heritage area

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.” —

Key Findings:

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.