National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. Through their natural and manmade resources, NHAs tell nationally significant stories that celebrate our diverse heritage. These regions are active, vibrant landscapes where people continue to live, work, play, and share their distinctive cultures.
Although supported by the National Park Service, NHAs are unique in that they are locally run and completely non-regulatory. Unlike regular park units, NHAs do not own land. Instead, NHAs build public-private partnerships to better tell the stories of these places and support communities in maintaining and sharing their unique resources. By collaborating with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs, NHAs can support historic preservation, economic development, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects.
In 2019, Congress passed the John Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act—the largest public lands bill in over a decade. That bill established Washington State’s first two National Heritage Areas: the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area, managed by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, and the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area, managed by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.
This designation built on years-long efforts to better recognize the importance of Washington’s maritime heritage. This included a 2010 feasibility study for the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area and subsequent survey of maritime resources, both led by the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.
After the 2019 designation of Maritime Washington, the Washington Trust led a three-year public planning process, in which hundreds of individuals, organizations, and Tribes from across the region provided input on the direction for this new National Heritage Area. These efforts culminated in a Management Plan, outlining vision, goals, strategies, and policies for Maritime Washington. The Management Plan was officially approved by the Department of the Interior in November 2022, setting the stage for Maritime Washington to officially set sail in 2023.
No. Although supported by the National Park Service, NHAs are unique in that they are locally run and completely non-regulatory. There is no change in ownership of land within the NHA, no added rules or regulations, and participation is completely voluntary. Local governments, Tribes, organizations, and members of the public can join in as much or as little as they wish.
Each National Heritage Area is facilitated and implemented by a local group. For Maritime Washington, that’s the statewide nonprofit Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. We’re a statewide preservation advocacy organization–you can learn more about us here—and are thrilled to be embarking on this new and exciting journey for our state’s saltwater shores.
In addition to the Washington Trust’s board of directors, we’ve convened a Maritime Washington Advisory Board and Tribal Working Group to help guide the heritage area. These groups will also serve as a bridge to the region’s many diverse communities and their unique interests.
We know there is already a lot of amazing work happening along Washington’s saltwater coastline. From historic tallships to trail systems, from oyster farms to Tribal museums, and much, much more, the vibrant activities already going on along our shores are a major reason why the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area was designated in the first place! The goal of Maritime Washington is not to replace or duplicate the work of the many successful organizations already preserving and sharing heritage within this area. Instead, we aim to provide these important partners with a platform to share their stories with a wider audience, help and support where we can, and foster more collaboration between folks working in diverse industries.
During the feasibility study process to create the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area, there was a simultaneous study to designate a Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area along the coastal areas of Clatsop and Pacific Counties, also known as the North Beach Peninsula. During this process, stakeholders from Pacific County decided to focus their efforts on the Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area. Therefore, Pacific County was not included in the final feasibility study nor in the resulting legislation that created Maritime Washington. Unfortunately, the recession, coupled with strong public opposition from certain private property interests, hampered the efforts of the proposed Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area, and the National Park Service has determined that, at least for now, insufficient public support exists for the designation. Although Pacific County is not officially a part of Maritime Washington, we hope and anticipate that the stories, themes, and benefits of the heritage area extend into Pacific County and throughout the entire Pacific Northwest coastal region.