February 8, 2023

NPS celebrates landmark National Heritage Area Act legislation with National Heritage Areas

NPS Director Chuck Sams met with National Heritage Areas members to commemorate the National Heritage Areas Act and unveil a new system graphic, signifying the partnership’s strength and alliance

The new Northern Neck National Heritage Area was featured during the event.
NPS Photo
NPS Director Chuck Sams commemorating the National Heritage Areas Act.
NPS Photo
NPS Director Chuck Sams met with National Heritage Areas members to commemorate the National Heritage Areas Act and unveil a new system graphic, signifying the partnership’s strength and alliance.
NPS Photo
Congressman Paul Tonko (NY) presents a National Heritage Areas Act image to Sara Capen, Chair of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas.
NPS Photo

WASHINGTON — National Park Service (NPS) Director Chuck Sams met with members of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas Feb. 7 to commemorate the historic signing of the National Heritage Areas Act last month, which establishes a National Heritage Area (NHA) System and a statutory framework for the NPS’s role in its administration. 

“National Heritage Areas represent the unique fabric of America and serve as points of community pride, where locals and visitors alike can come together in the spirit of unity and share in collective experiences,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams. “The NHA Act formalizes the relationship between the National Park Service and National Heritage Areas and will further paint America’s heritage landscape beyond the canvas of national parks.”  

NHAs are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historical resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important stories. Unlike national parks, NHAs are lived in-communities and not federally owned but may contain parks or other federally owned property. Through public-private partnerships, NHAs tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage.  

On Jan. 5, 2023, President Biden signed the National Heritage Areas Act into law. The act, which designates, extends, and authorizes studies for NHAs throughout the United States, is a first-of-its-kind, landmark legislation in the 39-year history of the NHA program, formalizing standard criteria in oversight, analysis, coordination, and support to ensure consistency and accountability of the NHA System. 

As partners to NPS parks and programs, the 62 NHAs across 36 states and territories are grassroots, community-driven approaches for heritage conservation and economic development. The NPS supports NHAs by providing technical and financial assistance on fields such as historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, education, and heritage tourism. 

The NHA System is composed of National Heritage Areas, National Heritage Corridors, National Heritage Canalways, Cultural Heritage Corridors, National Heritage Routes, and National Heritage Partnerships. 

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed the first NHA into law, the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. The 96-mile, hand-dug Illinois and Michigan Canal opened in 1848 to connect the American heartland to New York Harbor and New Orleans, allowing farmers a reliable way to transport crops to market. In his dedication speech, Reagan referred to NHAs as “a new kind of national park” that marries heritage conservation, recreation, and economic development.   

Visit the NPS National Heritage Areas to learn more about community-led conservation and development. Discover a National Heritage Area near you using the National Heritage Areas map

About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 424 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at, and on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and YouTube



December 22, 2022

Warner, Kaine, Wittman Applaud Passage of Bipartisan Legislation to Protect the Northern Neck, Generate Economic Activity

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) applauded passage of their legislation to preserve invaluable local resources and help generate economic activity in the Northern Neck. By officially designating the region as a National Heritage Area (NHA), the Northern Neck National Heritage Area Act will deliver critical federal dollars, encourage public-private partnerships, and assign a specific entity – the Northern Neck Tourism Commission – to help protect the Northern Neck’s natural, cultural, scenic, and recreational resources. After unanimously passing the Senate, the House voted today to approve the bill, which now heads to President Biden for his signature.

NPS defines National Heritage Areas as congressionally designated places where “natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.” Through their resources, NHAs communicate “nationally important stories” that celebrate the nation’s diverse heritage. Under this legislation, the NHA designation would apply to the land between the Potomac River and Rappahannock River, spanning King George, Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties.

“The Northern Neck is a national treasure, and a source of immense pride, history and economic development for the Commonwealth,” said Sens. Warner and Kaine and Rep. Wittman. “We’re proud to have worked together on this successful bipartisan effort to highlight the natural beauty of the Northern Neck and leverage federal dollars to spur long-lasting economic opportunity in the region.”

The legislation follows the completion of the Northern Neck National Heritage Area Feasibility Study, which concluded that the Northern Neck’s themes, local traditions, and natural and historic resources retain “sufficient integrity and opportunities for public engagement” to be eligible for an NHA designation.  

This legislation would also make federal funding available to the region and empower the Northern Neck Tourism Commission to carry out an area management plan by:

  1. Protecting and restoring relevant historic sites and buildings;
  2. Carrying out programs and projects that recognize, protect, and enhance important resources;
  3. Developing recreational and educational opportunities in the area;
  4. Establishing and maintaining interpretive exhibits and programs;
  5. Promoting a wide range of partnerships among the federal government, state, tribal and local governments, organizations, and individuals;
  6. Increasing public awareness and appreciation for natural, historical, scenic, and cultural resources in the area; and
  7. Ensuring that clear, consistent, and appropriate signs identifying points of public access and sires of interest are posted throughout the area.

“The Northern Neck has been working together for over 20 years in pursuit of the National Heritage Area Designation.  With designation, the Northern Neck Region will have a greater voice in sharing its stories which contribute to understanding the early origins of our nation. The National Heritage Area Designation recognizes the region for the special place it is, historically, culturally, and for its natural resources. It aligns with the region’s tourism strategy as an important economic development driver in this rural area,” said Jerry W. Davis, AICP, Executive Director of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission.    

Sen. Warner, Sen. Kaine, and Rep. Wittman have long advocated for the designation of the Northern Neck as a National Heritage Area. The lawmakers previously penned a letter pressing for an update from the National Park Service on the area’s feasibility study following apparent delays in its release.




In 2009, Congress passed legislation directing the National Park Service to determine the feasibility of designating the Northern Neck of Virginia as a national heritage area.

National Heritage Areas are places where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes. Unlike national parks, National Heritage Areas are lived-in landscapes. Consequently, National Heritage Areas entities collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.

For more information and details of the study’s findings, visit the Northern Neck National Heritage Area Feasibility Study.

Additional documentation of the study can be found here.

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