What’s a National Heritage Area (NHA)?
The National Park Service defines a National Heritage Area as a place where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes. Unlike national parks, National Heritage Areas are large lived-in landscapes, leading their organizing entities to collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.
The first National Heritage Area, Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Area, was signed into law in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan. In his dedication speech, Reagan referred to National Heritage Areas as “a new kind of national park” that married heritage conservation, recreation, and economic development. Today, the program includes 55 National Heritage Areas across the country.
The focus is on the protection and conservation of critical resources, the natural, cultural, scenic, and historic resources that have shaped us as a nation and as communities.
Without any national parks in northwestern Pennsylvania, the Oil Region National Heritage Area serves as a representative of the National Park Service in our portion of the state.
The Oil Region National Heritage Area’s natural landscapes are the wooded hills and valleys as well as the Allegheny River, French Creek, and Oil Creek waterways. Our historical significance is as the birthplace of the oil industry. While the Oil Region Alliance oversees the Oil Region National Heritage Area, the ORA works with local governments, business and cultural agencies, and many volunteers to serve as stewards of this impressive history and setting.
Benefits of NHAs
The National Park Service shares the following as some of the long-term benefits of NHA activities include:
- Sustainable economic development – NHAs leverage federal funds (NHAs average $5.50 for every $1.00 of federal investment) to create jobs, generate revenue for local governments, and sustain local communities through revitalization and heritage tourism
- Healthy environment and people – Many NHAs improve water and air quality in their regions through restoration projects, and encourage people to enjoy natural and cultural sites by providing new recreational opportunities.
- Improved Quality of Life –Through new or improved amenities, unique settings, and educational and volunteer opportunities, NHAs improve local quality of life.
- Education and Stewardship – NHAs connect communities to natural, historic, and cultural sites through educational activities, which promote awareness and foster interest in and stewardship of heritage resources.
- Community Engagement and Pride – By engaging community members in heritage conservation activities, NHAs strengthen sense of place and community pride.
National Park Service Criteria for National Heritage Area
The National Park Service has established the following criteria/elements of suitability/feasibility analysis while designating a heritage area:
- Area has an assemblage of natural, historic, or cultural resources that together represent distinctive aspects of American heritage worthy of recognition, conservation, interpretation, and continuing use, and are best managed as such an assemblage through partnerships among public and private entities, and by combining diverse and sometimes noncontiguous resources and active communities.
- Reflects traditions, customs, beliefs, and folklife that are a valuable part of the national story.
- Provides outstanding opportunities to conserve natural, cultural, historic, and/or scenic features.
- Provides outstanding recreational and educational opportunities.
- The resources important to the identified theme or themes of the area retain a degree of integrity capable of supporting interpretation.
- Residents, business interests, non-profit organizations, and governments within the proposed area are involved in the planning, have developed a conceptual financial plan that outlines the roles for all participants including the federal government, and have demonstrated support for designation of the area.
- The proposed management entity and units of government supporting the designation are willing to commit to working in partnership to develop the heritage area.
- The proposal is consistent with continued economic activity in the area.
- A conceptual boundary map is supported by the public.
- The management entity proposed to plan and implement the project is described.
National Park Service Criteria for National Significance
The National Park Service has established four criteria for evaluation of national significance for natural, cultural or recreational resources.
- A site must be an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.
- A site must possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our nation’s heritage.
- A site must offer superlative opportunities for recreation, public use and enjoyment or for scientific study.
- A site must retain a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate and relatively unspoiled example of a resource.
Main Benefits of National Heritage Area Designation for the Oil Heritage Region
Designation as a National Heritage Area increases the profile and reputation of a region, thus making it a bigger draw for heritage and recreational travelers.
Through annual Congressional appropriations, NPS passes funds to NHA entities. Although most entities are authorized to receive up to $1 million annually over a set period of time, actual annual appropriations range from $150,000 – $750,000. The financial assistance component of the program is secured with legal agreements, accountability measures, and performance requirements for NHA entities. NHA designation does not affect private property rights.
Able to receive, upon request, technical assistance from the National Park Service.