Launch and Celebration of the Northern Neck National Heritage Area
July 17, 2023
STRATFORD HALL — The Northern Neck officially launched the Northern Neck National Heritage Area with a celebration at Stratford Hall today, more than two decades after the Northern Neck Planning District Commission—working with numerous stakeholders, elected representatives, and the National Park Service—began the effort to earn National Heritage Area (NHA) designation for the region.
A National Heritage Area, said the Northern Neck Planning District Commission’s Executive Director, Jerry W. Davis, defines “places where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally-important landscape.” That perfectly describes the Northern Neck.
Erik S. Kreusch, National Heritage Area Coordinator at the Northeast Regional Office of the National Park Service in Philadelphia, addressed the next step in the process. “We have three years to develop a Management Plan,” said Kreusch. Its goal is to make the organization sustainable to allow the Northern Neck National Heritage Area to honor the history of the Northern Neck, engage museums, the community, and the region’s tribes to tell their stories. All this “aligns very much with the mission of the National Park Service,” he added.
Elizabeth S. Vehmeyer, Assistant Coordinator for the National Heritage Area Program at the National Park Service in Washington DC, explained that although the first Historic National Area was designated in 1984, and today there are 62 of them in 36 states, the Northern Neck became one, in January of 2023, along with the establishment of a system of National Heritage Areas across the country. “NHAs are grassroots efforts,” Vehmeyer said, “community-driven public-private partnerships that support, preserve, promote, and celebrate our nation’s history, its cultures, its peoples and places. They are partners with the National Park Service.” A National Heritage Area does not create ownership by the Federal Government, she added, the way a National Park would. “NHAs are administered locally, making your participation and your voice in this process welcome and essential for the success of the National Heritage Area,” she said.
After welcoming remarks—by James M. Long, Chairman of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission; Darryl E. Fisher, Chairman of the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors; and Karen L. Daly, President of Stratford Hall—the speakers thanked the numerous groups and individuals who made earning the NHA designation possible. Among the key figures who contributed to the effort were the late Congresswoman Joann Davis, who in 2001 invited the National Park Service to begin working with the Northern Neck Planning District Commission, and the late Dr. Paul Reber, Executive Director at Stratford Hall and Chairman of the Northern Neck Tourism Commission. “Paul and I made many a trip to Washington DC to meet with our Congressional representatives and Congressional staffs during the feasibility study process,” said Jerry Davis.
Davis also thanked the assistance of former State Delegate and Secretary of National Resources Tayloe Murphy, Virginia Tourism Chief Executive Alisa Bailey, Senators George Allen, John Warner, Jim Webb, Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine, and Representative Rob Wittman, who spoke in favor of the National Heritage Area Act bill on the House Floor in December of 2022. Also, Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe and Lisa Hull, Coordinator of the Northern Neck Tourism Commission.
The National Heritage Area Local Coordinating Entity
The Northern Neck Tourism Commission has been assigned as the Local Coordinating Entity (LCE) for the Northern Neck NHA. It will first work with the National Park Service on the preparation of a Management Plan for the Northern Neck National Heritage Area. The Plan will define the purpose, mission, and operations of the NHA. Current members of the Northern Neck Tourism Commission by organization are:
- A.T. Johnson High School Museum
- Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast
- Belle Isle State Park
- Caledon State Park
- George Washington Birthplace National Monument
- Historic Christ Church
- Holley Graded School
- James Monroe Birthplace
- King George Economic Development & Tourism
- Northern Neck Farm Museum
- Northern Neck Land Conservancy
- Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society
- Northern Neck Planning District Commission (chair)
- Omega Protein
- Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge
- Rappahannock Tribe
- Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern
- Stratford Hall
- The Tides Inn
- Westmoreland State Park
The celebration itself at Stratford Hall was a reflection of the public-private partnership that has begun. Aside from Karen Daly, who made the Great House and East Garden of Stratford Hall available for the gathering, it included the participation of Brian Oliff and his staff from Angelo’s in Montross, musicians Pam and Bill Gurley, Ingleside Winery (sponsored by All Points Broadband), Commonwealth Florist in Warsaw, and Clements Tent Rentals in Warsaw.
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.