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Appalachian Forest Heritage Area

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National Heritage Area for AFHA - A History

    Initially started in 2001 as a grant-funded initiative from WVU Division of Forestry and Extension Service, Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, Inc. (AFHA) was established as an independent non-profit organization in 2003. The Board and stakeholders soon decided to seek National Heritage Area status, while continuing their work across the region.

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A "National Heritage Area" is a place designated by the United States Congress where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. Heritage areas offer the potential to ensure key educational and inspirational opportunities in perpetuity, while retaining traditional local control over, and use of, the landscape.Congress has established 49 National Heritage Areas, in which interpretation, conservation, heritage tourism and other activities are managed by partnerships among federal, state, and local governments and the private sector. The National Park Service provides technical assistance as well as financial assistance for a limited number of years following designation. The Heritage Area program is a grants and outreach program for the National Park Service, not a land management program. There are NO new regulations or management controls associated with designation.

The first step toward a National Heritage Area designation is completion of a Feasibility Study that includes assessing national significance of the Heritage Area story and assets as well as showing the public support for the project. Resolutions or support letters from local government entities, non-profit organizations, businesses and residents were collected to show local support. The AFHA Feasibility Study was approved by the National Park Service in 2006 as meeting National Heritage Area criteria.

AFHA Feasibility Study for National Heritage Area Designation:

Feasibility Study (Note: large file)
Executive Summary

The key features emphasized by the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area are economic development based on heritage tourism, conservation and appreciation of our vast forest-related assets, community development based on partnerships across geographic lines and diverse interest groups, and supporting the forestry industry through education and interpretation. Once nationally designated, the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area will continue to be managed by the non-profit AFHA organization made up of representatives from diverse counties and interest groups. Benefits of National Designation would include national recognition and visibility, and long term funding for project development.

Next, a National Heritage Area must be designated by a Bill through Congress. AFHA has been working towards this goal for a number of years. Each new Congressional session requires new bills to be introduced, as we work towards passage.

Current Session Bills:

Senate Bill 401 - Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area of 2017 was introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on February 15, 2017, co-sponsored by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). (See text of bill HERE.) The bill was considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and approved through the committee, under the leadership with Senator Manchin.

While S. 401 still stands as a stand-alone bill, was included in a combined bill out of Committee on March 30, with three other National Heritage Area bills, to become an amended Senate Bill 713 the "National Heritage Area Authorization Act of 2017." Sen. Manchin commented, "My legislation will have a positive impact on West Virginia’s economy, traditions and our way of life. . . The Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area Act will invest in a healthy future for both our children and our growing tourism industry in West Virginia." Then June 29, these designations were also included in the larger S. 1460, the Energy and Natural Resources Act, Sec 7127. Passage of any one of these bills could include AFHA designation. The next step will be for any of these bills to be considered by the whole Senate, most likely by being attached to a larger bill.

On June 30, 2017, Congressman David McKinley (R-W.Va.), introduced H.R. 3142 - the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area Act of 2017 - in the U.S. House of Representatives. Originally co-sponsored by Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va) and Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), with Alex Mooney (WV-2) also joining as a co-sponsor, this introduction means the AFNHA bill is now active in both houses of Congress. With the AFNHA bill now introduced in both houses, and having been recommended out of the Senate committee, this brings AFHA closer than ever before to National Heritage Area designation.

Previous versions of the AFNHA Bill have included:

Senate Bill 1641 “West Virginia National Heritage Area Act of 2013” was introduced in November 2013 by Senators Rockefeller, Manchin, Cardin, and Mikulski. This bill would have designated the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area and extended the funding eligibility for the existing National Coal Heritage Area and Wheeling National Heritage Area. The bill was reported out of committee in 2014, but was not passed. National Coal Heritage Area and Wheeling National Heritage Area were reauthorized as part of an omnibus bill in December of 2014.

House Resolution 693 – to designate Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area - was introduced February 3, 2015 by Congressman David McKinley (WV-1) with co-sponsorship from Congressmen Evan Jenkins (WV-3), Alex Mooney (WV-2) and John Delaney (MD-6). It was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, but no hearing was held. This is the first time that the AFNHA bill had been introduced in the House.

Senate Bill 3167, the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area of 2016, was introduced on July 12, 2016 by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) co-sponsored by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). The bill was considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on September 22, 2016, with favorable comments from Sen. Manchin, Sen. Capito, and the Department of the Interior.

Support for National Heritage Areas

The current 49 National Heritage Areas each have individual designation, and are managed by the National Park Service without a formal program authorization from Congress. The Alliance of National Heritage Areas, AFHA as an emerging area, and the National Park Service are all in favor of the National Heritage Area Program Bill, HR 1002 (Dent / Tonko) which would create a more structured National Heritage Area Program within the National Park Service. This Bill will clarify the criteria for National Heritage Area designation, and should improve the chances for designation of emerging areas like Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area. We also support robust funding to support existing and newly designated National Heritage Areas.

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