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Campaign underway for heritage designation

ELKINS — Legislation designating an 18-county region in the highlands of West Virginia and western Maryland as a National Heritage Area is now making its way through Congress, and the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, based in Elkins, has launched a campaign to show strong support.

According to AFHA Executive Director Phyllis Baxter, the national designation will have a significant impact on economic and tourism development in the area.

“This designation will not only bring national recognition for our Appalachian Forest Heritage story, but also technical assistance through the National Park Service and funding for local conservation, heritage, and tourism development projects,” Baxter said in a news release.

AFHA has been working on this effort for many years, from the approval of a National Park Service feasibility study in 2006 through bills introduced in three different sessions of Congress. For the original feasibility study more than 150 private, government and nonprofit agencies and individuals wrote in support of this designation. The AFHA is soliciting that type of support once again to show that communities in the region are in favor of the designation.

“This year our designation bill is further along in the process than ever before,” Baxter said. “We have bills active in both the Senate and the House, and the Senate bill has been heard and approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.”

There is bi-partisan support from all representatives in the region for the legislation.

“We need to let our legislators know that an Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area is important to our region and that we appreciate their efforts and support,” Baxter said.

At present, there are 49 National Heritage Areas, including the National Coal Heritage Area and Wheeling National Heritage Area in West Virginia. They are designed to provide national recognition and leverage federal funds to benefit local project and communities.

“It is important to understand that the NHA program is a grants and outreach program for the National Park Service, not a land management program,” Baxter said. “There are no new regulations or management controls associated with the designation. For areas that have achieved this designation, the benefits are extraordinary.”

For example, the National Coal Heritage Area in southern West Virginia generates $207 million annually in economic impact, supports 2,744 jobs and generates $16.8 million in tax revenue.

“The opportunities for our region are similarly limitless; for we are unique,” said Baxter. “No other NHA has identified forest heritage as its primary theme. Also, National Heritage Areas return an average of $5.50 for every $1 of federal investment, proving to be a very cost-effective way of telling America’s story and conserving our natural and historic resources.

Information about the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area designation campaign is available at www.appalachianforest.us.