February 28, 2020

Warner, Kaine and Wittman Request Update on National Park Service Heritage Area Feasibility Study of Virginia's Northern Neck

~ A Heritage Area designation for the Northern Neck will preserve and protect a historically significant region ~

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) requested an update from the National Park Service (NPS) on the Northern Neck National Heritage Area Feasibility Study. Congress first directed NPS to conduct the study more than a decade ago as the first step in the process of designating the Northern Neck a National Heritage Area (NHA), which would provide federal recognition and resources to communities to protect, commemorate and promote the Northern Neck's unique place in American history. The study began a decade ago, and members pushed NPS to give an update on the study and to explain the apparent delays in its release.

“We understand the process of conducting a National Heritage Area feasibility study is rigorous and takes years to complete. However, we are concerned by the delayed timeline for the study and the lack of information communicated about its status," wrote the members in a letter to National Park Service Acting Director David Vela. “Designation as a National Heritage Area would allow the communities of the Northern Neck to better promote and protect this historical region. These communities are eager to begin collaborating with the Park Service and move to the next step in earning recognition for this important region.”

Congress has designated over 55 NHAs to recognize places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a nationally important landscape. This community-led conservation and development program promotes economic development, education and stewardship, and community engagement. The NHA designation process typically requires a two-step process. For the first step, the NPS conducts an initial study of the suitability and feasibility of designating the area an NHA. Legislation is enacted to designate the area as an NHA once a study is completed. Congress directed NPS to conduct the Northern Neck study as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L.111-11).

In their letter, the members asked for more information regarding the current status of the Northern Neck Feasibility Study, the next steps that remain in the process of releasing the study, and the estimated completion date. The members also asked for an explanation of the apparent delay given that the NPS website stated the study would be completed “sometime in 2019” and whether NPS requires additional resources to complete the study.

The members also underscored the Northern Neck’s unique and rich geography and history as the birthplace of James Madison, James Monroe, and the U.S.’ first president, George Washington. They also noted that the Northern Neck has maintained many of the scenic features of its past and character, making it a prime candidate for NHA designation.

The text of the letter is available below.

Dear Acting Director Vela:

We write today on the status of the Northern Neck National Heritage Area Feasibility Study. Congress directed the National Park Service to study the feasibility and suitability of designating Virginia’s Northern Neck as a National Heritage Area in Section 8102 of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L.111-11).

As you know, National Heritage Areas play an important role in the recognition and preservation of natural, cultural, and historic resources that are part of the fabric of American history. Virginia’s Northern Neck has a unique and rich geography and history. Beginning in the upland forests of Westmoreland County, the Northern Neck is surrounded by the Potomac River, the Rappahannock River, and the Chesapeake Bay. Originally home to members of eight Algonquian tribes, it was scouted by English explorer Capitan John Smith more than 400 years ago and settled by the English in the mid-17th century. The Northern Neck is the birthplace of James Madison, James Monroe, and our first President, George Washington, who called the Northern Neck “the garden of Virginia.”

The Northern Neck has maintained many of the scenic features of its past and its character, in part because of the farmers and watermen who continue the legacy of earning their livelihoods from the rich soil and surrounding waters. Designation as a National Heritage Area would allow the communities of the Northern Neck to better promote and protect this historical region. These communities are eager to begin collaborating with the Park Service and move to the next step in earning recognition for this important region. 

We understand the process of conducting a National Heritage Area feasibility study is rigorous and takes years to complete. However, we are concerned by the delayed timeline for the study and the lack of information communicated about its status. The Park Service’s Northeast Regional Office initiated this study in 2010, and we understand it was scheduled for completion in 2019. In order to provide our stakeholders with more information about the status of the feasibility study, we request answers to the following questions:

1.      What phase of completion is the Northern Neck Feasibility Study currently in? What are the next steps in the review process for this study?

2.      Is there an estimated completion date for the Northern Neck Feasibility Study? Why was the completion date for this study been delayed from what was listed on the Park Service’s website?

3.      Does the Park Service require additional funding or resources to complete the Northern Neck Feasibility Study?

We appreciate all the Park Service does to protect our national treasures. The Park Service is instrumental in telling America’s story and supporting communities across Virginia and the country. Given the importance the National Heritage Area designation would have for communities in the Northern Neck and the Commonwealth, we would appreciate a prompt response to these questions.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

 

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