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Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is Regional Leader, NPS Report Shows

The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area marks its 15th anniversary this year, evolving from a behind-the-scenes organization into the premiere heritage leader in Western North Carolina, according to a National Park Service report to the U.S. Congress.

The BRNHA works to preserve and promote the rich musical and craft traditions, Cherokee culture, authentic foodways, and outdoor beauty that make the North Carolina mountains a special place in our nation’s history and heritage.

Based on those five heritage legacies, Congress designated 25 North Carolina counties in and around the Blue Ridge mountains as a National Heritage Area in November, 2003. Congress reauthorized the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area in 2018.

“As an outdoorsman and lifelong North Carolinian, I’m pleased to receive the Department of Interior’s favorable evaluation of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. “Senator Tillis and I introduced the BRNHA Reauthorization Act of 2017 in December of last year, renewing the effort to preserve and develop the distinctive culture of Western North Carolina and South Appalachia for two more years. This area has benefitted from $2.1 million in federal grants, more than $4 million in private and local investments, supports 30,000 jobs and generates nearly $2.5 billion in economic impact each year. I look forward to generations of North Carolinians visiting the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area for years to come.”

“We’re proud of the difference we have been able to make with the help of hundreds of partners to improve individual lives and the economies of our rural communities and small towns across the mountains of Western North Carolina,” said Angie Chandler, Executive Director of the nonprofit BRNHA.

Matching federal funds with private and other monies for over $6 million in grants to 154 heritage projects in the past 15 years, BRNHA has boosted local pride and heritage identity while creating new economic opportunities across the region. These projects include:

  • Providing economically disadvantaged schoolchildren the chance to learn and honor traditional music through the Junior Appalachian Musicians program.
  • Educating Cherokee youth on their ancestral roots to enable them to be ambassadors for their culture
  • Empowering craft artisans with the proper tools to flourish as business savvy entrepreneurs who can support their families
  • Boosting tourism in rural towns by showcasing their revitalized authentic music, crafts, Cherokee, agricultural, natural heritage sites and resources.

“BRNHA has made an impact on hundreds of advocates who have worked for decades on heritage projects by tying their local goals for preserving the land, its traditions, and its stories to a national network bound by a common passion rather than political red tape,” said the 100-page report commissioned by the National Park Service.

The report points to the success of the Blue Ridge Music Trails, which highlights traditional string music, bluegrass, ballad-singing, gospel and other music native to the North Carolina mountains. Partnering with the N.C. Arts Council, BRNHA has developed and promoted stages, venues, festivals and small jams, drawing more music fans to the region each year.

“The Blue Ridge Music Trails took nearly a decade of hands-on efforts to implement and has been the turning point for BRNHA’s regional reputation. More local organizations have begun to look at BRNHA for not just program support or grant money, but to fill a void in community leadership,” the report said.  

The report also pointed to the BRNHA’s latest signature project to promote traditional and contemporary crafters across the region, along with the historic craft schools and institutions that make craft a vital part of the local culture sought out by visitors. “The Blue Ridge Craft Trails will continue that deep involvement in local communities. Historic craft institutions and new artisans both overwhelmingly expressed their desire for BRNHA leadership.”

BRNHA is a long-time partner of the Blue Ridge Parkway, staffing a regional information desk aa the Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville. Over the past 11 years, the staff has had the opportunity to guide over 1 million visitors up and down the Parkway and to over 150 attractions around the region.