Niagara Falls among National Heritage Areas extended for 15 years

Jan. 7—The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area will be in place for at least the next 15 years.

With authorization set to expire for as many as 45 existing NHAs across the the country within the next two years, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the National Heritage Area Act (S. 1942) by a bi-partisan vote of 326-95 in one of its last acts of 2022. The Senate had already passed the same bill without opposition. President Biden signed the legislation on Thursday.

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26), said the legislation provides a long-term commitment to federal investments in Western New York Heritage Areas, which include the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area as well as the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

"This law protects the strength of Heritage Areas for years to come," he said.

The law also provides heritage areas with an annual authorization of up to $1 million annually for the next 15 years. The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area was designated by Congress in 2008.

"The National Heritage Area Act is a testament to the tremendous work National Heritage Areas do within communities across America," said Sara Capen, chairwoman of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA) and executive director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area (NFNHA). "On a national level, it is a direct reflection of the determination and resilience that is not only the bedrock of National Heritage Areas but also the history of the places and people National Heritage Areas represent.

"In Western New York, we are dedicated to revitalizing the Niagara Region by creating transformative projects that showcase the incredible history and natural assets that make our region stand out nationally and internationally. The economic impact of our work through initiatives like Discover Niagara Shuttle, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, Niagara Falls Public Arts Initiative, and many other projects support the communities we represent and create meaningful experiences for visitors coming to Niagara Falls. Whether it is the local jobs we create or the revenue generated by tourists staying longer, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area continues to drive positive impact in our region." Capen concluded: "This 15-year reauthorization takes a burden off of our team and partners and will allow us to continue to focus on supporting initiatives and building out programs benefiting our residents, tourists, and economy."

President Ronald Reagan established National Heritage Areas in 1984 when he signed a bill that created the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Area. Since then, 54 additional NHAs have been made across the United States, all through community-led efforts. Rather than an enclosed park as is typical of other programs administered by the National Park Service (NPS), NHAs are lived-in spaces that often span large geographic areas that cross multiple jurisdictions, including 591 counties in 34 states.

NHAs are administered by a local coordinating entity and receive matching funds through the National Park Service but are not National Park units. Significantly, they do not impact the private property rights of existing landowners within or adjacent to an NHA designation. In addition to Congressionally authorized matching funds, NPS provides technical assistance and a strong partnership. NHAs match every federal dollar with an average of $5.50 in state, local, and private contributions. A 2012 study determined that NHAs are responsible for a nearly $13 billion economic impact in the communities they serve.

Representatives Paul Tonko championed the National Heritage Area Act (D-NY) and David McKinley (R-WV) in the House and Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) in the Senate. The bipartisan bills are co-sponsored by 16 Senators and 138 House members (through the House companion bill, H.R. 1316). Higgins co-sponsored the House bill.