In one of the last acts taken by the US Congress in 2022, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the National Heritage Area Act (S. 1942) on a bi-partisan vote of 326-95. This action followed the unusual vote of “unanimous consent” by the Senate, which required that there be no objections from any of the 100 Senators.

Annie Harris, CEO of the Essex National Heritage Area located on Boston’s North Shore, said “This rare show of bipartisan support is one of the reasons that the work of the National Heritage Areas is so important. Whatever our differences, we look for the common threads of history, culture, and an appreciation of heritage to bring our communities together.”

Ms. Harris credited the tenacity of Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Seth Moulton and Lori Trahan for helping secure the passage of this bill. They have been closely monitoring this legislation for the past several years. Without this legislation, the five National Heritage Areas in Massachusetts along with 50 other National Heritage Areas across the country were quickly approaching their legislated sunsets.

Dave Read, volunteer President of Essex Heritage and Vice President of Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said, “This was truly extraordinary. When the end of December arrived and the legislation was still stuck in the Senate, we thought there was no chance of its enactment. We thank Congressman Moulton and Senator Markey for responding to our passionate calls for help and continuing to push forward with this bill. It is amazing that it happened.”

The enacted bill is the National Heritage Area Act of 2022. It creates standard criteria for the funding, management, and designation of National Heritage Areas across the country and provides them with an annual authorization to receive federal funding for the next 15 years. S. 1942 also solves a challenge for the existing NHAs that were due to sunset during the next two years and approved the designation of seven new National Heritage Areas including the Downeast Maine NHA.

The National Heritage Area Act was championed by Representative Paul Tonko 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 were co-sponsored by 16 Senators and 138 House members (through the House companion bill, H.R. 1316).

“Establishing a system for National Heritage Areas will help breathe new life into the historic preservation movement in America,” said Alan Spears, Senior Director for Cultural Resources for National Parks Conservation Association. “Our history, complicated as it may be, serves as a rallying point for Americans of different backgrounds and ideologies. This piece of legislation exemplifies what our country can do when we stand together to protect our shared legacy.”

Sara Capen, Chairwoman of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas, stated, “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. The Alliance of National Heritage Areas is profoundly grateful for the tireless leadership and support we have received on a bipartisan basis within Congress and look forward to serving our communities for an additional 15 years.”

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 created 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 a total of 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. Importantly, 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, and a 2012 study determined that NHAs are responsible for a nearly $13 billion economic impact in the communities they serve.

About National Heritage Areas
To learn more about NHAs, their value, and their work, please visit You can also view a short video created by ANHA that explains the importance of The National Heritage Area Act for the future of NHAs.