December 22, 2022
WASHINGTON – Today, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) and U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-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 Rep. Wittman and Sens. Warner and Kaine. “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:
- Protecting and restoring relevant historic sites and buildings;
- 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,” said Jerry W. Davis, AICP, Executive Director of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission. “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.”
Rep. Wittman, Sen. Warner, and Sen. Kaine have long advocated for the designation of the Northern Neck as a National Heritage Area.
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.