National Heritage Area

Legislation passed designating the Upper Housatonic
River Valley as a National Heritage Area

In October 2006 the U.S. Senate passed legislation designating 29 towns in the watershed of the upper Housatonic River valley, from Dalton, north of Pittsfield in Massachusetts south to Kent on the New York-Connecticut border as a National Heritage Area. This officially makes the region part of the National Park Service system. The new area will join about 25 other previously designated national heritage areas, including several in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.

The Act authorizes $1 million in grants annually, up to a total of $10 million, for a variety of activities that conserve the significant natural, historical, cultural, and scenic resources, and that provide educational and recreational opportunities in the area. All decisions will be made at the local level and, as provided in the legislation, no private property rights will be affected.

At this point, only a veto by President George W. Bush would block creation of the district and its accompanying funding.

The area was the subject of a feasibility study by the Secretary of the Interior. Completed in spring 2003, it concluded that national heritage designation would be the most effective way to accomplish the region's goals for cultural and environmental preservation and education.

The study acknowledged the region's significant national contributions through literary, artistic, musical, and architectural achievements; as the backdrop for important Revolutionary War era events; as the cradle of the iron, paper, and electrical industries; and as home to key figures and events in the abolitionist and civil rights movements. It includes five National Historic Landmarks and four National Natural Landmarks.

The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, Inc., a not-for-profit entity, has helped establish several heritage projects, including an annual October Weekend of Heritage Walks, an African-American Heritage Trail with an accompanying book, an Iron Heritage Trail brochure and a heritage indoctrination course for local teachers.

Leading the effort to help pass this bill were Congresswoman Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, Congressman John Olver of Massachusetts and U.S. Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and John Kerry and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Photo by: Steven Pinker

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