Senator Jay Rockefeller today said legislation he introduced will strengthen tourism in West Virginia and Maryland by securing federal funding for existing National Heritage Areas in Wheeling and in southern West Virginia, while creating a new one in the state's eastern mountains, as well as the Mountain Counties of Maryland.
The West Virginia National Heritage Area Act of 2013, co-sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, supports continued National Park Service funding and technical assistance for the Wheeling National Heritage Area and the National Coal Heritage Area, while designating the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area as a National Heritage Area. The new region would encompass 16 counties in West Virginia and two in Maryland.
"Tourism is such an important part of West Virginia's economy, creating jobs and enriching people's lives," Rockefeller said. "Our state has so much to offer, whether it's a tour of Independence Hall in Wheeling, a trip back in time through the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, or a day spent fishing on mountain streams in the Monongahela National Forest. These historic, cultural and natural treasures need to be preserved for--and enjoyed by--future generations of West Virginians."
Federal funding for the National Coal Heritage Area expired in 2012, and will expire for the Wheeling National Heritage Area in 2015. Rockefeller's bill would continue funding for all three National Heritage Areas until 2017.
"West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states in our nation and we must preserve our many natural wonders for the next generation of West Virginians and for the visitors from all over the world who visit our great state each year," Manchin said. "This commonsense measure is an investment in a healthy future for both our children and our growing tourism industry."
"Strengthening the tourism economy of Western Maryland is a smart investment that will continue to draw in new visitors, new jobs and economic development to the region," said Senator Mikulski. "Maryland is a state rich in history and culture with many unique treasures. By supporting National Heritage Areas, we will honor Maryland's key role in American history for future generations while encouraging heritage tourists to enjoy the state's terrific combination of natural beauty."
"The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area supports the growing outdoor recreation and tourism economies of Garrett and Allegany counties. Importantly, it simultaneously helps to preserve the rich culture of Mountain Maryland," said Senator Cardin. "I want to applaud Maryland's local leaders who encouraged this new designation, understanding how celebrating the natural and cultural heritage of Mountain Maryland is good for business in Mountain Maryland and the entire region."
National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. NHAs are a grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development. Through public-private partnerships, NHA entities support historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects.