U.S. Senate passes bill to make coast a National Heritage Area

Legislation that establishes parts of Washington’s coast as a National Maritime Heritage Area was approved in the U.S. Senate last week, and now just has to be voted on by the House of Representatives before it goes to the president. The designation could help coastal communities by promoting tourism, preserving natural areas, and it opens the door for potential federal grants.

The Senate voted 92 to 8 in favor of the Natural Resources Management Act, a massive public lands package that includes provisions from a bill led by Reps. Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, both Washington Democrats, for a new National Maritime Heritage Area in Washington state.

The Kilmer-Heck Maritime Washington National Heritage Area Act, which was championed in the Senate by Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, would designate a majority of Western Washington’s shoreline as a National Heritage Area to help promote maritime-related tourism, economic development and maritime history as told through Washington state’s museums, historic ships, fishing culture and other activities. It’s a bill Kilmer has been pushing since 2014.

John Shaw, executive director of the Grays Harbor Lighthouse and the Westport Maritime Museum, said he looks forward to how this bill could help improve tourism.

“We’re very excited about the possibilities of getting some additional help in preserving these historic assets,” Shaw told The Daily World Friday. “The lighthouse and museum are two of the key elements of tourism out here for visitors who maybe aren’t fishing every day.”

Shaw said he hopes some longterm projects, such as restoration for the lighthouse that is 120 years old, could be used to tap into some of the national heritage funding along with what has already been raised privately.

The heritage area would consist of lighthouses, historic vessels, parks, and other landmarks located within one-quarter mile of the shoreline in 13 counties, including Grays Harbor, Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, San Juan, Island, King, Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties. It also would include 19 Native American tribes, 32 cities and 30 port districts.

This would be the first National Heritage Area established in the Pacific Northwest. Congress has designated 49 National Heritage Areas nationwide to promote local economic growth and tourism and preserve sites and landmarks with cultural and historical significance.

“This bill will honor our shared maritime traditions and support our local economies,” said Kilmer and Heck. “We want to express gratitude to Senator Cantwell for her leadership on this. By creating a National Maritime Heritage Area and helping coastal communities protect national treasures along our coast, we can remind future generations of our rich history along the water and attract visitors from across the nation. We’re proud to see progress made on this bill which will support the vibrancy of our coastal communities, and we hope the House will move forward soon.”

National Heritage Areas are partnerships between the National Park Service, states, and local communities through which the Park Service supports local and state efforts to preserve natural resources and promote tourism. They are operated by local boards that are established by legislation. National Heritage Areas are not part of the National Park System, which are lands that are federally-owned and managed. No federal regulations are imposed, and no private land is affected or acquired.

Heritage Area designations are eligible for federal grants and can help draw contributions from state, local and private sources. Heritage Area designations also help coordinate marketing and tourism promotion, such as developing websites, putting up highway signs to advertise sites, sponsoring festivals, and publishing brochures and tour maps. Heritage Areas also can help with assisting in the operation of museums and visitor centers.

A recent economic impact study conducted by the National Park Service indicates National Heritage Areas contribute $12.9 billion annually to the national economy and support 148,000 jobs.