Proposed National Heritage Area public meeting

Leslie White reported to Historic City News that there will be an informational meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach about the proposed Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area on Monday, June 22, 2009, at 4:00 p.m.

The meeting is scheduled to be held at the Council on Aging facility at 175 Landrum Lane in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Those who live in the coastal St. Johns County and Flagler County region know what a naturally and culturally rich landscape it is. There are stories that the waterways and land, and the people living here, have to tell stories unlike those in other parts of the nation.

Hosted by St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum Heritage Area Officer, Leslie White, and St. Johns County Historic Resources Coordinator, Robin Moore, the meeting is open to the public. Interested parties are encouraged to attend and give their input regarding the uniqueness of the region’s heritage – including cultural, natural, recreational, and business resources, stories, culture, and traditions.

National Heritage Areas are designated for the unique history, landscapes, and cultural traditions they contain. Areas seek a balance between protection of these resources for lifelong education and a community’s quality of life, and promotion of these resources for recreation, heritage and nature tourism, and a sustainable economy. The first National Heritage Area was designated by Congress in 1984 in Illinois. Since then, 48 additional Areas have been designated across the country.

A National Heritage Area is a designation through the National Park Service but land ownership does not change from private to public. National Heritage Areas are voluntary preservation efforts undertaken by local communities. Designation imposes no rules or regulation regarding land use on either public or private land. The goals of resource protection, quality of life, education, and heritage and nature tourism development are achieved through promotion and cross-jurisdictional partnerships as opposed to regulation, much like an economic enterprise zone.

Upon designation, communities and organizations within an Area are eligible for federal matching grants to support these types of projects. Many directors of established Areas also note that designation encourages individuals and communities to think regionally, to work together on common goals, and to break down divisions between communities or the public and private sectors.

To attain designation, a feasibility study is prepared that outlines the region’s significant natural and cultural attributes. This report is then presented to the National Park Service and Congress for consideration.

Community input is essential to the feasibility study. The study must show that residents of the proposed Area want to share their community treasures, and have given meaningful input to the study.

White, Moore, and other planning partners from the local National Heritage Area Working Group have met with a number of local organizations and individuals to discuss the effort to gain a National Heritage Area designation. The Working Group will continue outreach to the region’s historical societies, environmental and non-profit organizations, civic and business groups, county and municipal representatives throughout the next year while working on a feasibility report to be submitted for Congress’ consideration.

An informal Working Group comprised of community organizations is facilitating the feasibility process. Among the planning partners are GTM National Estuarine Research Reserve, Flagler County Historical Society, Florida Agricultural Museum, Florida Sea Grant, Friends of A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway, Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, St. Augustine Historical Society, St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, Flagler County, and St. Johns County. This group is open and welcomes broad participation from the region’s stakeholders.

For additional information regarding the proposed Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area, contact Leslie White, Heritage Area Coordinator, at lwhite@staugustinelighthouse.com or 765-610-1684 cell phone and visit www.floridanha.com. White welcomes questions and comments and can share how you can help.

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