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Tonko Champions Bills to Strengthen U.S. Heritage Areas including Erie Canalway

Legislation would secure federal resources for NYS Areas, strengthen Heritage Areas system overall

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Washington, April 30, 2019 | comments
WASHINGTON – Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) spoke passionately today in support of two heritage bills he introduced: H.R. 1049, the National Heritage Area Act, and H.R. 2288, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Reauthorization Act during a hearing in the Natural Resources Committee. The first bill would establish a formal process for designating and maintaining National Heritage Areas including the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor. The second would raise the funding cap for the Erie Canalway, which was overlooked when a Senate-led “Lands” package advanced through Congress in February. Local and national advocates also participated in the hearing and spoke in support of both bills, including Executive Director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Bob Radliff.

“Our truest American spirit can be found in the cultural, historical, and natural sites we choose to preserve and pass on to future generations,” said Congressman Tonko. “New York’s Erie Canalway and sites like it all across the country embody our national heritage, filled with the stories of diverse people and cultures that give us the wisdom and strength that can only come from a deep connection with our own history and culture. Rather than let these sites fall into disrepair, many local partnerships have formed to maintain and share them. Designating a region as a National Heritage Area provides valuable resources and guidance to these local partners so that we, our children and our grandchildren, can enjoy and learn from them. My bipartisan legislation would streamline this system, better secure funding for such precious sites across New York State, and make it as simple as possible for local communities to preserve our heritage, spur local economic development, and tell America’s most important stories for years to come.”

“We have developed strong working relationships with federal, state and local partners who believe the Erie Canalway is both worth preserving and fully utilizing in the 21st century,” said Bob Radliff, Executive Director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. "Showcasing our heritage has been both a source of pride for residents and an economic driver for communities connected by our upstate New York waterways. There is no bigger champion for heritage development in New York State and across these United States than Congressman Tonko."

Tonko co-chairs the Heritage Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives along with Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) and serves on the Committee on Natural Resources and its Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. There are currently 55 National Heritage Areas across the country including the Erie Canalway and Hudson Valley Heritage Areas in the Capital Region. According to a U.S. Department of Commerce study, cultural heritage tourism contributes more than $192 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

The National Heritage Area Act:

  • Establishes a streamlined process for creating new National Heritage Areas (NHAs)
  • Creates an evaluation process for existing NHAs that ensures transparency and accountability
  • Modernizes the program to allow for long-term sustainability
  • Defines an oversight structure that will allow these popular sites to independently serve their communities and grow their economies without relying on federal support

“National Heritage Areas empower communities across the United States to more capably tell their part of the American story,” added Alan Spears, Director Cultural Resources for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “From battlefields to historic buildings and other attractions, these regionally distinct but nationally significant sites add billions of dollars to our economy and support thousands of jobs every year. The National Heritage Area Act would establish a system of National Heritage Areas and create uniformed standards by which these areas are designated, managed and assessed, making the program more efficient and responsive to the needs of the people they serve.”

During her testimony, Sara Capen, Chairwoman of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and Executive Director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area noted, “There are few federal programs that epitomize the democratic principles our nation was built on like National Heritage Areas. They truly are of the people, by the people, and for the people. In partnership, they preserve our nation’s iconic history without adding to any of the federal maintenance costs that are associated with national parks, monuments, and historic sites.”

Video of the full hearing is available here: https://youtu.be/vHTkFluYS7U

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