WASHINGTON, D.C. – The country’s first National Heritage Area — the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor — turned 30 on August 24 and is celebrating the success of a program that promotes and protects America’s significant cultural sites.
In the 1980s, community and National Park Service leaders wanted a new approach to conserve and develop the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal, the primary transportation corridor linking Chicago to other parts of the country from 1848 to 1933. After years of neglect, the canal was a toxic waste dump. Visionary leaders designed a program to unite the 96-mile Canal region as a National Heritage Area, preserving historic, cultural and natural sites as well as developing roadways, businesses and residential and industrial districts.
The National Heritage Areas approach – a large-landscape that includes active communities, a multidisciplinary emphasis and community-based coordination – was groundbreaking in the 1980s and has grown into a vital partnership for enhancing and preserving America’s cultural heritage.
Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 24, 1984, I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor’s designation paved the way for future National Heritage Area designations, including the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, which Congress designation in 2009 to promote cultural tourism by education, preservation and conservation of the heritage and culture of the six counties within northwest Alabama’s Tennessee River basin.
“Here in northwest Alabama, we are continuing the National Heritage Area mission
established 30 years ago,” said MSNHA director Judy Sizemore. “We inform, educate, develop and interpret visitor-ready sites, create living history experiences and chronicle the evolution of the area’s landscape as well as extend these opportunities to the largest audience possible.”
Since 1984, Congress has designated 49 NHAs and numerous bills have been introduced to create more. Continued interest in the NHA approach is a testament to the benefits of community-driven, landscape-scale preservation, conservation and development, advocates say.
NHAs and their partners are reviving historic downtowns, preserving battlefields and industrial sites, providing new and improved recreation opportunities, telling our nation’s history in innovative ways, engaging youth in stewardship activities and conserving forgotten waterways and wetlands.
“I have witnessed the growth and maturity of the heritage areas movement and individual heritage areas and am convinced of their effectiveness,” wrote NPS director Jon Jarvis. “National Heritage Areas are places where small investments pay huge dividends, providing demonstrable benefits in communities across the country and in partnership with our
According to a 2013 economic impact report issued by the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the NPS, NHAs contribute $12.9 billion yearly to the US economy, primarily through increased visitation and tourism. In addition, NHA economic activity supports approximately 148,000 jobs annually.
In 2013, NHAs leveraged approximately $48 million to the $16 million received through NPS’s National Heritage Areas program fund and used that money for preservation, conservation, recreation and education. They distributed more than 600 grants in a total of $4 million and worked with more than 60,000 volunteers (at approximately 900,000 volunteer hours) in heritage area projects and programs.
The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, waiting on NPS approval of its final management plan, already has strengthened northwest Alabama’s cultural heritage. MSNHA has worked with the University of North Alabama’s public-history graduate program to create educators’ packets for several historic sites, designed a Map Our History project to teach youngsters about the cultural and historic treasures in the MSNHA and is a key player in preserving the area’s iconic music history by helping develop the Roots of American Music Trail.
MSNHA also has established 13 Passport to Your National Parks cancellation sites and regularly helps tourists plan their visits here.
During the week of Aug 24-30, the NPS and NHAs across the country are celebrating the birthday of the first NHA and 30 years of NHA partnership and accomplishments.
To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/HHPreservItNPS and https://twitter.com/HHPreservItNPS. Add to the discussion by sharing your favorite story or picture using #HeritageArea30. For details on NHAs, including an interactive map and economic impact data, visit http://www.nps.gov/heritageareas/. Information on the MSNHA is at http://msnha.una.edu/
MEDIA RELEASE/Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area/Cathy Wood, media coordinator