Let’s Talk About the National Heritage Areas Concept

The Heritage Tourist
a monthly column by Dr. Bill Smith

In my first column here, "The Journey Continues," in May 2012, I briefly mentioned the "nationally significant story" of each of the 49 current National Heritage Areas (NHAs) around the USA. I have referenced each of the NHAs in the various states as we have discussed them in monthly blog posts here, in Examiner.com articles, and in Squidoo lenses that have been referenced. Today, I want to take a more detailed look at NHAs and, perhaps, explain why I suggested there that, "…in my view, (NHAs) are the current incarnations of new National Parks."


Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arizona


You will recall that National Heritage Areas are "designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape." NHAs are a grassroots, community driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development. They collaborate with and among communities to identify and promote those local entities that together tell the story of the area. They form public-private partnerships, they support local historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism and educational projects. NHA partnerships leverage funds, foster pride of place and maintain an enduring stewardship ethic. Economic development underlies much of the work of NHAs.


I first became aware of and involved in the National Heritage Area movement nearly ten years ago while I was a business school professor promoting economic development in the Kansas Flint Hills who also had an ongoing commitment to historic preservation, family history story-telling and cultural diversity. One of the first principles I learned about NHAs was this: "A National Heritage Area is not a unit of the National Park Service (NPS), nor is any land owned or managed by the NPS. National Park Service involvement is always advisory in nature." National Heritage Areas are organized locally with the involvement as partners of many existing as well as created public, private, non-profit and other local entities.


Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_River


Local efforts to organize a possible National Heritage Area are supported by the NPS, the Alliance of National Heritage Areas, and private and public consulting firms. In order to be successful, this local efforts need to have the full support of local governmental units as well as a support from most, if not all, local historical, cultural, and natural resources entities identified as a part of the proposed NHA.


With national budget constraints being what they are and often have been in recent years for national, state and local governments, it is unlikely that many new areas will be purchased and set aside by these governmental entities, especially as National Parks. The broad partnerships that are an integral part of the NHA planning process, however, can be an effective vehicle through which to incorporate, support and promote critical historic, cultural and natural resources that need to be preserved and appreciated.


Wikimedia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slater_Mill


With this background, I hope I have provided you with information that demonstrates why I always recommend consulting the NHA resources when you plan a Heritage Tourism visit to a destination including a local NHA. You will be visiting local sites, but your visit will be enhanced by the work that has been done by the local NHA.


See you down the road…


© Dr. Bill Smith 2012

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of The In-Depth Genealogist. Receive The In-Depth Genealogist by subscribing HERE.