Brenda Barrett

Publication Date



The United States National Heritage Areas (NHA) are congressionally designated lived-in landscapes that reflect the nation’s significant and diverse landscape. The management of these areas is based on a community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development. Beginning in 1984, the movement took root and rapidly grew to its present number of 49 NHAs with dozens of proposed areas under consideration (“National Heritage Areas” National Park Service). The idea was founded in many of same impulses as the early greenway approach. Glenn Eugester traces the evolution the idea to a number of separate, but related ideas to coordinate natural resource conservation, historic preservation, land use and economic development on a regional scale. While there were multiple factors at work, in his opinion what defines the movement is its focus on place and story of place combined with advocacy, civic engagement, inter-disciplinary planning, and action (Eugester 50).

The NHA program was seen as a new and revolutionary way for the National Park Service to engage public/private partnerships in conserving large landscapes such as river corridors, canal systems, industrial complexes, and agricultural regions. When originally conceived the approach was seen as untested and experimental. (Barrett 2003) It was thought that National Park Service funding for a period of 10 to 15 years might be adequate to launch each new heritage area. Over the past decades, congress recognizing the value of the NHA programs, the challenge of finding dollars for regional initiatives, and the program’s growing popularity, has provided the earliest NHAs with multiple funding extensions (Barrett 2012).

In 2008 Congress fashioned a legislative solution to the funding issue for nine of the NHAs whose funding authorization expired in 2012. It mandated an evaluation of the accomplishments of the nine areas. Based on these evaluations, recommendations would be made as to the future role of the National Park Service including funding (Public Law 110-229 U.S. Statutes at Large, May 8, 2008). This approach was seen as a possible model for evaluating all the NHAs within the program.



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