National Heritage Areas
Images from Erie Canal, Yuma, and Hudson Valley NHAs

What are National Heritage Areas?

National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. Through their resources,info sheet imageNHAs tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation's diverse heritage. NHAs are lived-in landscapes. Consequently, NHA entities collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.

NHAs are a grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development. Through public-private partnerships, NHA entities support historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects. Leveraging funds and long-term support for projects, NHA partnerships foster pride of place and an enduring stewardship ethic.

The National Heritage Area Program

NHAs further the mission of the National Park Service (NPS) by fostering community stewardship of our nation's heritage. The NHA program, which currently includes 49 heritage areas, is administered by NPS coordinators in Washington DC and seven regional offices - Anchorage, Seattle, Oakland, Denver, Omaha, Philadelphia and Atlanta - as well as park unit staff.

NHAs are not national park units. Rather, NPS partners with, provides technical assistance, and distributes matching federal funds from Congress to NHA entities. NPS does not assume ownership of land inside heritage areas or impose land use controls.

FAQs

How do National Heritage Areas work?

National Heritage Areas (NHA) expand on traditional approaches to resource stewardship by supporting large-scale, community driven initiatives that connect local citizens to the preservation and planning process.

What is the role of the National Park Service?

The National Park Service (NPS) provides technical, planning and limited financial assistance to National Heritage Areas. The NPS is a partner and advisor, leaving decision-making authority in the hands of local people and organizations.

The National heritage Areas staff at NPS headquarters are available to help answer any questions about the program.

How is it different from a National Park?

A National Heritage Area is not a unit of the National Park Service, nor is any land owned or managed by the NPS. National Park Service involvement is always advisory in nature.

How does a region become a National Heritage Area?

National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress. Each National Heritage Area is governed by separate authorizing legislation and operates under provisions unique to its resources and desired goals. For an area to be considered for designation, certain key elements must be present. First and foremost, the landscape must have nationally distinctive natural, cultural, historic, and scenic resources that, when linked together, tell a unique story about our country. It is strongly recommended that a feasibility study be conducted prior to and designation attempt.

How do communities benefit from the National Heritage Area designation?

The designation has both tangible and intangible benefits. Heritage conservation efforts are grounded in a community's pride in its history and traditions, and in residents' interest and involvement in retaining and interpreting the landscape for future generations. It offers a collaborative approach to conservation that does not compromise traditional local control over and use of the landscape. Designation comes with limited financial and technical assistance from the National Park Service.

Why utilize the heritage areas strategy?

The heritage area concept offers an innovative method for citizens, in partnership with local, state, and Federal government, and nonprofit and private sector interests, to shape the long-term future of their communities. The partnership approach creates the opportunity for a diverse range of constituents to come together to voice a range of visions and perspectives. Partners collaborate to shape a plan and implement a strategy that focuses on the distinct qualities that make their region special.

What kinds of activities does a National Heritage Area offer to outside visitors?

National Heritage Areas appeal to all ages and interests. Some have opportunities for walking, hiking, biking and paddling. Some have festivals to attend and museums to visit. Many Areas provide volunteer opportunities, group tours, and multiple-day excursions and can also be visited in combination with over 80 units of the National Park Service.