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30 Years Telling America’s Stories and Making a Difference

The Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, the first National Heritage Area in the country, turns 30 on August 24. Thirty years ago, National Heritage Area designation was conceived by community and National Park Service leaders looking for a new approach to conserve and develop the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal which extends from Chicago to LaSalle-Peru, once the primary transportation corridor that linked Chicago to other parts of the country from 1848 – 1933.

Today a visitor can hike and bike on the Illinois & Michigan Canal (I & M Canal) Towpath Trail and enjoy a mule-pulled ride on a replica of the 19th Century canal boats that once carried passengers to and from Chicago. Looking back to the 1960 – 80s opportunities like these were unimaginable.

By the early 1980s the I & M Canal was all but forgotten, described as a toxic waste dump. Visionary leaders sought to unite the 96-mile Canal region, not as a National Park Unit, but as a National Heritage Area, preserving a large landscape focused not only on historic, cultural and natural sites, but also active roadways, businesses, and residential and industrial districts.

The National Heritage Areas approach – a large-landscape that includes active communities, a multidisciplinary emphasis, and community-based coordination – was ground-breaking in the 1980s and it is to this day.

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area was designated by Congress in 1996 with the mission to preserve and tell the story of American agriculture and its global significance through partnerships and activities that celebrate the land, people, and communities of the area. “Agriculture has become more important than ever with the world’s population continuing to expand. As we move into the 21st century, understanding our agricultural system and the values that helped build its strong foundation is more important than ever to the future of the United States and the world,” Don Short, Executive Director.

Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 24, 1984, I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor’s designation paved the way for future National Heritage Area designations.

Since 1984, Congress has designated 49 National Heritage Areas (NHAs) and numerous bills have been introduced to create additional NHAs. Continued interest in the NHA approach is a testament to the benefits of community-driven, landscape-scale preservation, conservation, and development.
Across the country, National Heritage Area entities and their partners are reviving historic downtowns, preserving battlefields and industrial sites, providing new and improved recreation opportunities, telling our nation’s history in innovative ways, engaging youth in stewardship activities, and conserving forgotten waterways and wetlands.

“I have witnessed the growth and maturity of the heritage areas movement, and of individual heritage areas, and am convinced of their effectiveness,” wrote National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis in the NHA Policy Memorandum. “National Heritage Areas are places where small investments pay huge dividends, providing demonstrable benefits in communities across the country and in partnership with our national parks.”

According to a 2013 economic impact report issued by the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the NPS, the 49 NHAs contribute $12.9 Billion to the U.S. Economy on an annual basis, primarily through increased visitation and tourism. In addition, their economic activity supports approximately 148,000 jobs annually.

In 2013 alone, NHAs leveraged approximately $48 million to the $16 million that they received through the NPS National Heritage Areas program fund. Funds were used to carry out diverse preservation, conservation, recreation and education projects.

Collectively, NHAs distributed over 600 grants in the amount of $4 million and engaged over 60,000 volunteers (at approximately 900,000 volunteer hours) in heritage area projects and programs in 2013.

Since 2001, SSNHA has awarded over $1.75 million in grants to non-profit organizations, local governments and communities preserving America’s agriculture heritage. SSNHA has actively encouraged youth’s exposure to agriculture by offsetting the cost of transportation to our Partner Sites through the Bus Grant program. From 2007-2014, over 14,000 youth have been served by this program.

August 24, 2014 is the 30th anniversary of I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor. The NPS and NHAs across the country are using the week of August 24 – 30, 2014 to celebrate not only I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor, but 30 years of National Heritage Area partnership and accomplishments.

Join the national celebration on the NPS Heritage & Historic Preservation Facebook and Twitter sites – www.facebook.com/HHPreservItNPS and https://twitter.com/HHPreservItNPS. Add to the discussion by sharing your favorite story or picture using #HeritageArea30.

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area encourages you to share your favorite experience or image from one of Partner Sites on Facebook or Twitter.

For more information on National Heritage Areas, including an interactive map and economic impact data, click here.

SSNHA is one of 49 federally designated heritage areas in the nation and is Affiliated Area of the National Park Service. The Heritage Area covers 37 counties in the northeast quadrant of Iowa. Interstate 80 borders it on the south and Interstate 35 borders it on the west. Through a network of sites, programs and events, SSNHA interprets farm life, agribusiness, and rural communities—past and present. To learn more about Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area, please click here.

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