Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) spoke before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations to seek support for his bill, H.R. 445. The bill would permanently authorize the current 49 National Heritage Areas and require new Heritage Areas to have a viable management plan in place before any designation by Congress.
Congressman Dent introduced the bill along with Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20) had introduced the bill in the previous Congress as well.
A National Heritage Area (NHA) is a region that has been recognized by Congress for its unique qualities and resources. It is a place where a combination of natural, cultural, historic, and recreational resources have shaped a distinctive landscape.
“Our legislation, if enacted into law, would create a systematic framework in the National Park Service for maintaining existing Heritage Areas while allowing for the possibility of creating future Heritage Areas,” said Dent.
NHAs generate valuable revenue for local governments and sustain communities through revitalization and heritage tourism. In fact, in a recent study of 12 heritage areas, all Heritage Areas met and in most cases exceeded the 50 percent required match, used the National Park Service funds responsibly to meet program goals, and leveraged additional funds for heritage infrastructure at a ratio of 4-to-1.
Although there are 49 NHAs, presently there is no systematic process in place for Congress to determine if a proposed Heritage Area should receive the same Congressional designation. Further, the designation of a NHA should be based on a nationally significant narrative and the collective resources that contribute to that history.
“Without these parameters in place, we have run into situations where a heritage area, quite frankly, really didn’t have any business being designated,” noted Dent.
Congressman Dent’s bill addresses these issues by creating a systematic framework in the National Park Service. It requires a management plan be presented and vetted prior to any designation from Congress. The bill will also encourage more public involvement in the designation process, as local community members will have to weigh in and develop the management plan.
However, Dent stressed that Heritage Areas are not and would not become part of the National Park System.
Congressman Dent noted that he is a long-time supporter of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and the Schuylkill River Heritage Area in Eastern Pennsylvania. He added, “I have seen first hand the positive impact Heritage Areas can have on a community.”
“The American public has not shown any sign of tiring of their national parks or desiring reductions in park opportunities,” Dent observed. “National Heritage Areas are an innovative approach to providing Americans with access to these sites and to resource conservation. They represent the future direction of the National Park Service in the 21st century,” he concluded.
Contact: Shawn Millan (610) 770-3490