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What Is a National Heritage Area?

A National Heritage Area is a place designated by the United States Congress where natural, cultural, historic, and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. These patterns make National Heritage Areas representative of the national experience through the physical features that remain and the traditions that have evolved in the areas. Continued use of the National Heritage Areas by people whose traditions helped to shape the landscapes enhances their significance.

Local Stewardship

National Heritage Areas are locally governed institutions that encourage residents, government agencies, non-profit groups, and private partners to join together in planning and implementing programs that preserve and celebrate America’s defining landscapes. The National Heritage Areas seek near-term and long-term solutions to their conservation and development challenges by fostering relationships among regional stakeholders and encouraging them to work collaboratively to achieve shared goals.

A National Heritage Area designation does not affect the ownership or use of land. Existing local, state, and national parks are commonly included and actively partner in National Heritage Area activities. Programs and projects are created through voluntary efforts coordinated by the management organization of each National Heritage Area.

Number of National Heritage Areas

There are currently 49 National Heritage Areas across the United States. Each one is unique, and the experiences they offer are very diverse. The areas possess a variety of resources and are at different stages of implementing plans for such efforts as scenic byways, greenways, heritage trails, interpretive and educational programs, festivals, and rehabilitation of historic buildings and districts. They share a common challenge: to match, with non-federal funds, the appropriations they receive from Congress, and to use these combined resources to “tell America’s story.”

The National Park Service website provides a complete list of National Heritage Areas, with information on visiting the areas, how National Heritage Areas are created, and benefits to communities.

Learn more about National Heritage Areas in this short National Park Service video.