Warner, Kaine & Wittman Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Protect Historic Resources and Generate Economic Activity in the Northern Neck
Jun 24 2021
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), introduced 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 would 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.
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.
“As many Virginians already know, the Northern Neck is reflective of the Commonwealth’s unique history, with deep connections to eight Algonquian tribes and a number of American statesmen, including James Madison, James Monroe, and George Washington,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to help protect the rich history and unique geography of the Northern Neck, and leverage federal dollars to spur long-lasting economic opportunity in the region.”
“Virginia’s Northern Neck is a source of pride, history, and economic development for the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Kaine. “The beauty and cultural significance of the region attract tourism, strengthening Virginia’s economy and supporting jobs. I’m proud to introduce this piece of legislation to highlight the Northern Neck’s natural beauty and cultural assets, which will bring visitors and economic development.”
“The Northern Neck’s lands and waters showcase a natural beauty unlike any other. As a longtime resident of the Northern Neck, I know our heritage is unique and worthy of preserving,” said Rep. Wittman. “With a history profoundly intertwined with that of the entire nation, it’s only right for us to recognize the Northern Neck as a National Heritage Area. I’m proud to join Senators Warner and Kaine in introducing this bipartisan legislation.”
The introduction of this legislation follows the completion of the Northern Neck National Heritage Area Feasibility Study. The National Park Service (NPS) – which began conducting this study more than a decade ago – recently 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.
Under this legislation, and as approved by the NPS study, the heritage area would be managed by the Northern Neck Tourism Commission, which would serve as the NHA’s local coordinating entity.
This legislation would also make federal funding available to the region and empower the commission to carry out an area management plan, including by:
- Protecting and restoring relevant historic sites and building;
- Carrying out programs and projects that recognize, protect, and enhance important resources;
- Developing recreational and educational opportunities in the area;
- Establishing and maintaining interpretive exhibits and programs;
- Promoting a wide range of partnerships among the federal government, state, tribal and local governments, organizations, and individuals;
- Increasing public awareness and appreciation for natural, historical, scenic, and cultural resources in the area; and
- 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. Last year, the lawmakers penned a letter requesting an update from NPS on the area’s feasibility study, following apparent delays in its release.
The text of this legislation is available here.
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.
That feasibility study has now been completed, and the Northern Neck has met all evaluation criteria to be eligible for designation 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, download the Northern Neck National Heritage Area Feasibility Study
Additional documentation of the study can be found here.