InsideNPS November 11, 2013
By Katie Durcan, National Park Service
The National Heritage Area program recently submitted the Evaluation of the Essex National Heritage Commission Findings to Congress. Required by Congress, the evaluation assessed the impacts, outcomes, and organizational sustainability of the Essex National Heritage Commission, the entity responsible for coordinating the Essex National Heritage Area. The Evaluation illustrates that with a modest federal investment the area cultivates regional identity, protects resources, brings communities together, and educates residents and visitors alike.
Essex National Heritage Area, just north of Boston, is at the forefront of New England’s surge as a destination. Newburyport, a prime stop along the new Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, had its heyday in the age of sail, but as the city’s fortunes faded—its waterfront rife with weeds and junk—a plan was floated to bulldoze much of downtown in favor of strip malls and parking. Instead, residents held fast to their heritage. Today, block after block of beautifully restored buildings, once boarded up and derelict, greet travelers. The sense of possibility—epitomized by a waterfront boardwalk and a downtown alive with shoppers and strollers—draws new residents, too.
Essex NHA and two national parks, Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, are at the revival’s core. Their success is routed in partnership to glue together the regional identify. Essex is often able to tap resources that others cannot because of their connections to community leaders, stakeholders, and volunteers.
Over a 12-year period, the evaluation reports, Essex more than doubled its federal investment. When combined with the match grown from the federal seed, this adds up to nearly $30million invested in local economies. The product is community engagement as well as economic benefit.
Essex Heritage takes its message to schools too, developing curricula, programs, and sponsoring youth jobs with Salem Maritime and Saugus Iron Works such as F1rstJobs andMaking the Caribbean Connection. Local students met at The House of Seven Gables to learn, in Spanish, the untold stories - past and present - between their homeland islands in the Caribbean and the sites in Salem which have interacted for centuries.
Given this success, the National Park Service recommends continuing its role with Essex Heritage.