National Heritage Areas(NHAs) are congressional designated community partnerships where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to forma cohesive, nationally important landscape and aim to serve as catalysts for economic development for the communities in which they are located. For three decades, the National Park Service (NPS)has administered the National Heritage Areas program under its mission to preserve nationally significant natural and historic resources.NPS provides technical, planning, and limited financial assistance.
Across the Southeast and the country, NHAs are reviving historic downtowns, preserving battlefields and industrial sites,supporting infrastructure improvements and telling our nation’s history in innovative ways. Operating largely through partnerships and community engagement, NHAs create deep and compelling connections to regional facets of our national story.
Of the nation’s 49 National Heritage Areas, the Southeast is home to 16 areas or one-third of the program. Thecollaborations between NHAs, state and local tourism offices, and businesses has deliveredexceptional travel experiences. They have also strengthened the skills of frontline community-focused tourism organizations and amplified the voice of tourism as a powerful engine for community building and economic growth.
Successful National Heritage Areas embody locally driven partnerships that emphasize local control of land use, and blend education, cultural conservation, resource preservation, heritage tourism, small business development, and recreation and community revitalization.An independent analysis found that NHAs overall annual economic impact is $12.9 billion, which represents a return on investment of federal funding of as much as 5:1.
Despite this significant impact on local communities, the NHA program continues to operate without authorizing framework and has been targeted for elimination. The Southeast Tourism Society endorses, H.R. 1002, which would modernize the program and establish essential managementcriteria to ensure its long-term sustainability and callson Congress and the Presidentof the United Statesto provide strong funding for this critical community partnership. Stable and consistent federal support for the National Heritage Areas program would allow local communities to better leverage this vital program for community and economic development.