National Heritage Areas celebrate 30 years telling America's stories

Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area News Release

Contact: Sonia J. Smith, Marketing and Community Development Manager
Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area
(785) 856-5300 Office
(785) 856-5303 Fax
(785) 840-5499 Cell

National Heritage Areas: 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 leaders in the local community and the National Park Service looking for a new approach to conserve and develop the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal. The canal extends from Chicago to LaSalle-Peru and was the primary transportation corridor linking Chicago to other parts of the country from 1848 to 1933. 

Today visitors can hike and bike 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. Prior to the creation of the heritage area in the 1980s, 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 Area approach – a large-landscape that includes active communities, a multidisciplinary emphasis, and community-based coordination – was ground-breaking in the 1980s and remains so to this day. 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. Today there are 49 National Heritage Areas.

“Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area (FFNHA), which encompasses 29 counties in eastern Kansas and 12 counties in western Missouri, was signed into law in October 2006. In the past eight years, numerous projects have been undertaken in partner communities, preserving cultural heritage and improving local economies,” said FFNHA Board Chair Jody Ladd Craig of Leawood, Kansas.

More than $130,000 has been awarded in Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area interpretive grants, with more than $116,000 contributed in local matching funds in support of partnering organizations. Projects include:

• Panels and displays to inform tourists about the shaping of the frontier, the Missouri-Kansas Border War, and the enduring struggle for freedom.
• An educational day that connected representatives from more than half a dozen Native American tribes with the public, to talk about the Indian Removal Act’s impact on those tribes.
• Murals on panels, a building in St. Joseph, Missouri, and a Lawrence, Kansas, city bus.
• Quilts depicting Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence and the life of Maria Martin, a Missouri slave brought to Kansas as contraband.  Her story crosses the border and connects the two states.
• Video, audio and interpretive panels about one Kansas and two Missouri cemeteries to inform visitors about the history of the people buried there.
• Brochures to guide visitors to historic sites as they drive, walk or bicycle through parts of Freedom’s Frontier.
• Restoration to interpret the room of a freed slave in Kansas City, Missouri, who lived in the home of the family that freed her.

Since 1984, Congress has designated 49 National Heritage Areas (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.

Over the past three years, Freedom’s Frontier has partnered with Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to provide a daycamp to experience local history for over 600 Boys and Girls Club students in Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka. This past summer, Freedom’s Frontier included a partnership with Fort Scott National Historic Site to expand this daycamp for children in the Fort Scott region.

In August 2013, as the nation commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Freedom’s Frontier worked with the Kansas Humanities Council and several other organizations in Lawrence, Kansas, on #QR1863: A Twitter Reenactment of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence. The community project had more than 30 people taking on roles of Lawrence citizens and raiders from 1863 and tweeting from their diaries and letters, using a chronological timeline based on historical accounts of the raid, one of the bloodiest attacks on civilians in the Civil War. This project has won awards for its innovation blending of modern technology and historic storytelling from: the Travel Industry Association of Kansas, the Kansas Museum Association, the National Association of Public History, and the American Association of State and Local History.

Freedom’s Frontier provides workshops and peer-to-peer opportunities to learn from one another. The partnership meets six times a year at various locations throughout the heritage area counties in Kansas and Missouri. Meeting attendance averages at about 40 people representing museums, historical societies, trails associations and parks, libraries, archives, and more. Many of the partnerships’ collaborative projects begin at these meetings. Each meeting also has a guest speaker and a training component. The most recent workshop series was focused on creating a volunteer program, recruiting, training and retaining volunteers.

August 24, 2014, is the 30th anniversary of I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor. During the week of August 24–30, 2014, the NPS and NHAs across the country are celebrating not only the 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. Follow along locally at www.facebook.com/FreedomsFrontier and twitter.com/ffnha.
For more information on National Heritage Areas, including an interactive map and economic impact data, visit http://www.nps.gov/heritageareas/.

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Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area Fast Facts

Established: October 12, 2006

Mission: Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area (FFNHA) is dedicated to building awareness of the struggles for freedom in western Missouri and eastern Kansas. These diverse, interwoven, and nationally important stories grew from a unique physical and cultural landscape. FFNHA inspires respect for multiple perspectives and empowers residents to preserve and share these stories. We achieve our goals through interpretation, preservation, conservation, and education for all residents and visitors.

Location: 41 counties in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri

Area: 31,021 square miles, approximately the size of South Carolina

Population: 2,917,976 (2012 estimate)

Counties involved: Kansas (29) – Allen, Anderson, Atchison, Bourbon, Chautauqua, Cherokee, Clay, Coffey, Crawford, Douglas, Franklin, Geary, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Labette, Leavenworth, Linn, Miami, Montgomery, Neosho, Osage, Pottawatomie, Riley, Shawnee, Wabaunsee, Wilson, Woodson, Wyandotte

Missouri (12) – Barton, Bates, Buchanan, Cass, Clay, Jackson, Johnson, Lafayette, Platte, Ray, St. Clair, Vernon

Web Address: www.freedomsfrontier.org

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