As coronavirus vaccinations get into more arms, the pent-up desire to travel is bursting at the seams, although the pandemic has shifted some of our travel preferences. Now, more travelers prefer natural settings with plenty of open space, and society is more conscious of healthy environments and sustainability. National Heritage Areas are a perfect fit for our modified travel priorities, but what exactly are they?
The differences between National Heritage Areas and National Parks
A National Heritage Area (NHA) is not the same as a national park, although they are both authorized by Congress. A National Heritage Area contributes to and is the result of grassroots tourism development, resource conservation and historic preservation, while traditional national parks are managed by the National Park Service. The National Park Service acts as a partner and advisor to NHAs by providing technical, planning and some financial assistance, but National Heritage Areas are community-based efforts that tell stories about what makes the region special.
The concept of a National Heritage Area is to involve communities in promoting the cultural, natural and recreational benefits of its area. It gives local stakeholders a voice in shaping the long-term future of the community. National Historic Areas are composed of public and private property, including towns, commercial districts, historic sites, parks and trails. Private property rights are not affected.
Since 1984, Congress has designated 55 National Heritage Areas in 34 states. Virginia has two NHAs: Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District and Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area. The latter is a 180-mile long, 75-mile-wide region that runs from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, through Maryland and West Virginia, to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville.
Benefits of an NHA
Each NHA is supported by an entity, often a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote education and stewardship of that area. Increased visibility to the region’s natural landscapes, historical sites and community programs all stimulate an awareness of the region’s special heritage.
NHAs offer recreational opportunities that encourage a healthy environment and people. Active pursuits include hiking, biking, riding horses, camping, canoeing or driving scenic roadways. Many NHAs also develop restoration projects that improve water and air quality in their regions.
The economic impact of incoming tourism is a major contribution to the community, too. Hotels, restaurants, wineries and breweries, tour operators and private businesses catering to visitors create jobs and revenue for the local government, supporting sustainable economic development.
NHAs support the preservation of historic sites and the conservation of natural resources. They also offer volunteer programs, educational projects and promote tourism. By using a grassroots approach, National Heritage Areas strengthen a region’s sense of place and foster community engagement and pride.
When you visit a National Heritage Area, you are not only expanding your mind and moving your muscles for a healthier you, but you’re also contributing to an improved quality of life for the area’s residents and other visitors. It’s a win/win!
When you are ready to travel again, work with a knowledgeable travel advisor to plan your visit to a National Heritage Area.