Congressman, Charlie Dent (PA-15), and Democratic Congressman, Paul Tonko (NY-20) have introduced a bill-H.R. 445, that would permanently authorize the current 49 National Heritage Areas (NHA), and require new Heritage Areas to have a viable management plan in place before any designation by Congress.
Speaking before the House Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations, Dent explained that their 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.
A National Heritage Area is a region that has been recognized by Congress for its unique qualities and resources.
NHAs generate valuable revenue for local governments and sustain communities through revitalization and heritage tourism.
Dent said, "I have seen the first hand impact Heritage Areas can have on a community."
However, 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.
As such, some areas have been designated as NHAs when "quite frankly, really didn't have any business being designated," Dent noted.
The bill addresses these issues by crafting a systematic framework in the National Park Service which requires that 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.
Dent, however, insisted that Heritage Areas are not and would not become part of the National Park System.
Dent concluded that, "National Heritage Areas represent the future direction of the National Park Service in the 21st century."