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April 5, 2022

Bill in Congress would create Downeast Maine National Heritage Area

Acadia National Park panorama shot File photo / Laurie Schreiber A bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden would create the Downeast Maine National Heritage Area, which would include Acadia National Park, shown here.

A congressional bill creating a national heritage area in Downeast Maine would give an economic boost to rural Washington and Hancock counties and help create jobs, according to proponents.

The bipartisan bill was recently introduced by U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and chairman of the Senate National Parks Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine 2nd District.

"Washington and Hancock counties are home to proud traditions in Maine's heritage industries, from growing blueberries to lobstering to lodging," Golden said in a news release.

“Designating these counties as National Heritage Areas would honor these traditions and help bolster the economy in these rural communities, create jobs, and bring more investment to the region. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to celebrate and support this historic region.”

King added that designating the two counties as a national heritage area will open the door for critical federal funding, increase tourism and drive more economic activity to the area.

"I hope our House and Senate colleagues will recognize the incredible assets of this region and pass this bill," King said

The legislation, which is co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine 1st District, would designate all of Hancock and Washington counties as an area of national importance.

With the designation, the Downeast region would also qualify for additional federal investment.

The bill specifically recognizes the contributions of Downeast Maine’s agriculture industry — including wild blueberry growers — as well as the impact of heritage fishing and forestry.

"The people of Downeast Maine are fiercely proud of their heritage, motivated to strengthen their economy, and are committed to developing quality opportunities that highlight local history and enable communities to build upon it,” said Crystal Hitchings, director of community infrastructure at Sunrise County Economic Council, a nonprofit organization with offices in Machias and Calais.

“Designation as a National Heritage Area will provide more resources to support coordinated efforts in heritage preservation, tourism, and economic initiatives that matter locally," she added. "If passed, this will give organizations and communities more tools to proactively support development that reflects our important Downeast values and way of life.”

55 national heritage areas

The U.S. currently boasts 55 national heritage areas, defined as places where historic, cultural and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscape. The list includes the Essex National Heritage Area in Essex, Mass., and the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

When President Ronald Reagan signed 1984 legislation creating the first one, the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Area, he spoke of a "new kind of national park" that married heritage, conservation, recreation and economic development.

Unlike national parks, national heritage areas are large, lived-in landscapes where communities collaborate with the National Park Service to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and economies.

The areas qualify for additional federal funding and work through public-private partnerships to support historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, traditional and new industries and educational projects.

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