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Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Achieves Reauthorization for 15 Years

Thanks to a bipartisan vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and unanimous support from the U.S. Senate, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (BRNHA) has been reauthorized to serve Western North Carolina for another 15 years. The 20-year-old organization is one of 55 National Heritage Areas reauthorized under the National Heritage Act (S. 1942). As one of the last bills passed in the 117th Congress, the bill was signed into law by President Biden on January 5, 2023. The Act also provides for a standardized system for designating new National Heritage Areas and will strengthen an evaluation system for existing sites. 

The bipartisan U.S. House vote was championed by Representative Patrick McHenry and supported by Representative Virginia Foxx of Western North Carolina and the congressional leadership in nine other districts in the state of North Carolina. This action followed the unusual vote of “unanimous consent” by the U.S. Senate requiring no objections from any of the 100 Senators. Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis championed the effort on behalf of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.

Serving Western NC for 20 Years

BRNHA, a nonprofit organization based in Asheville, N.C., serves 25 North Carolina mountain and foothill counties through natural and cultural programming such as the Blue Ridge Craft Trails and Blue Ridge Music Trails, heritage grants and training in rural areas. Created in 2003 through an act of Congress, BRNHA is the steward of the living traditions of Western North Carolina, charged with preserving and promoting its music, handmade crafts, natural and agricultural heritage and Cherokee culture.

“This reauthorization will end the inconsistent and burdensome stop-gap reauthorizations for years to come,” said BRNHA Executive Director Angie Chandler. “We will continue to work with Congress every year to ensure that our authorized funding is included in appropriations, but we are energized by the groundswell of support from congressional leaders and community partners. We’re eager to continue our mission of investing in rural communities for the benefit of present and future generations.” 

Partnerships, Grants, Cultural Programs and More

Since its creation, BRNHA has reinvested its federal appropriations into communities by awarding 188 grants totaling $2.5 million, with matching contributions leveraging another $5.9 million. These grants went to deserving educational, environmental, cultural and historical organizations in all 25 counties within the Heritage Area. 

The organization has amassed more than 600 community, state and national partners and is known as a regional convener and resource. In partnership with the North Carolina Arts Council, BRNHA established the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina featuring more than 200 sites across the region where locals and visitors can hear traditional mountain music almost any day of the week. And the organization has helped serve more than 1.4 million visitors as a partner at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville.

The impact of BRNHA’s work goes beyond mere numbers. In March 2022, BRNHA announced the completion of Blue Ridge Craft Trails, which is a curated list of 340 destinations across BRNHA’s region, including artist studios, galleries, and arts organizations. On the Craft Trails’ website, visitors can find information about the destinations as well as itineraries and videos. 

“BRNHA’s work is vital to preserving Western North Carolina’s cultural and natural heritage,” said BRNHA Board Chair Barbara Halsey. “We want to express our gratitude to our congressional leaders and their staff, our regional tourism and community partners, the Southeast Tourism Society, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks for their tremendous support. It made all the difference.”