When President Ronald Reagan dedicated the first national heritage area (NHA) in 1984, he announced that this, and others to come, would be “a new kind of national park.” The purpose: to preserve areas of the U.S. that reflect the sense of place of their distinctive regions, including their natural and cultural history, and offer outstanding visitor attractions and recreation and educational opportunities.
There are now 55 NHAs — each representing a specific theme or story from American history.
While national parks are generally large areas of public lands managed by the National Park Service, NHAs are a mix of public and private lands, run by partnerships that usually include residents, nonprofit organizations, private enterprise and government agencies. These groups join together to help define, celebrate, conserve and share the NHA’s natural, historic, cultural, scenic and recreational resources. As with national parks, only Congress can establish NHAs, and NHAs are officially “related areas” of the National Park Service. The agency provides funding and technical assistance to NHAs.
Many heritage areas are quite large, and some even include national parks within their boundaries.
Here are eight wonderful NHAs to visit:
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Robert Manning is professor emeritus at the University of Vermont and author of the new book America’s National Heritage Areas: A Guide to the Nation’s New Kind of National Park (Globe Pequot) and the award-winning Walks of a Lifetime in America’s National Parks.