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The Top Ten National Heritage Areas you might visit - one is close to you!

Updated on September 20, 2014

Visitor Center, Capital Reef National Park

Wayne County, Utah
Wayne County, Utah | Source

This is a useful Top Ten list of places to visit - you could make it your Bucket List - right?

This list of Top Ten places is intentionally chosen from sites across the country so that at least one or two are relatively close to EVERYONE! That includes you. If you are unfamiliar with the National Heritage Area concept, move down to the next paragraph, where I have a link to my article already in place with all the explanations and details you may desire.

Before you leave the page, I hope you'll leave a note to let me know if this information was helpful. THANKS! ;-)

How to choose a National Heritage Area

I wrote this article specifically to help you consider the various elements you may want to use in selecting a National Heritage Area to visit.

National Park Service under the Department of the Interior

Department of the Interior logo
Department of the Interior logo | Source

Heritage Area Program Legislation Update

Will it pass? That is the question. It should have bipartisan support.

From the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area Newsletter:

In 1984, legislation was signed into law for the first National Heritage Area (NHA), the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. This designation set in place a new model for preservation of the important cultural narratives that have helped shape America. Nearly 30 years later, there are now 49 NHAs sharing stories that are uniquely American, along with a number of emerging Heritage Areas waiting to tell their story.

Since the beginning, NHAs have established a proven record of fostering job creation and advancing economic, cultural, historic, environmental, and community development. Built around a public-private partnership model, NHAs are one of the Department of Interior’s most cost effective initiatives, with every federal dollar matched with an average of $5.50 in other public and private funding.

While NHAs have had countless success stories, there continue to be many challenges, including lack of standardized program legislation. To help strengthen and reform the NHA Program, the bipartisan National Heritage Area Act of 2012 (H.R. 4099) was recently introduced to the House of Representatives. The act establishes the first ever standard criteria for the designation of new NHAs, which are currently authorized on an individual basis. The act also outlines a process to evaluate the progress of NHAs and make recommendations on their future relationship with the NPS, including developing a formula for future funding. Through having a clearly defined structure to oversee the management of NHAs, it will help ensure long term sustainability for the program.

An NHA site in Iowa

Click here to see list of sites at Silos and Smokestacks
Click here to see list of sites at Silos and Smokestacks | Source

1 - The Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

The Silos & Smokestacks interpretive themes are:

The Fertile Land

Farmers & Families

The Changing Farm

Higher Yields: The Science & Technology of Agriculture

Farm to Factory: Agribusiness in Iowa

Organizing for Agriculture: Policies and Politics

Photo shows the Morningside Nature Center at the Living History Center in Des Moines

Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area - Located in Northeast Iowa

Silos & Smokestacks is a 37-county region in Northeast Iowa covering over 20,000 square miles. A federally designated National Heritage Area, it functions as an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service. Silos & Smokestacks is the connecting element of this regional partnership network. The attractions, sites and communities are key partners in developing the Heritage Area.

An NHA in Michigan

Click photo for interactive map of sites
Click photo for interactive map of sites | Source

2 - MotorCities National Heritage Area

Located in the vicinity of Detroit, Michigan

The regional boundaries cover 10,000 square miles and portions of 16 counties in southeast and central Michigan.

Photo is of the Ypsilanti Auto Heritage Museum, Ypsilanti Michigan

MotorCities National Heritage Area

The programs and activities of the MotorCities National Heritage Area are designed to increase tourism throughout the State of Michigan; develop and deploy educational and informational programs that tell the story of the automobile industry and the labor movement in our region; and encourage revitalization through conservation.

An NHA Site in Utah

The Mormon Temple in Manti, Utah is one of the most prominent landmarks and symbols of the MPNHA
The Mormon Temple in Manti, Utah is one of the most prominent landmarks and symbols of the MPNHA

3 - Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area

Located in Southern Utah

Welcome to Utah Heritage Highway 89 and the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area. We are the artisans and business owners of the Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance. You are about to begin a a heritage adventure that will take you through one or more of five uniquely Western heritage areas. In each of these areas you will find heritage defined in a distinctly local way, but you will always find a delightful blend of art galleries and artisan studios, heritage lodging, western adventures, historic sites, celebrations, antiques and indigenous foods.

Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area - Visit US 89 and the Scenic 24/12 Boulder loop

We are particularly proud of our many heritage artisans and invite you to visit the shops and studios where their works are on display. Handmade treasures include porcelain dolls, antique furniture reproductions, contemporary woodcraft, kiln and pit fired pottery, appliquéd western clothing, carved wooden caricatures, hand tooled boots and saddles, unique jewelry, Native American crafts, fine art and much more.

Mormon Pioneer Area Books on Amazon

Capitol Reef National Park: The Complete Hiking and Touring Guide
Capitol Reef National Park: The Complete Hiking and Touring Guide

The only complete guide to Capitol Reef National Park whether on foot or from the road.

Finally, the total experience of enjoying Capitol Reef National Park has been captured in one comprehensive volume.

 
Highway 12
Highway 12

Highway 12 is undoubtedly one of not only America's but the world's most scenic highways. From its intersection on the west with Highway 89 south of Panguitch, Utah, it runs up through Red Canyon onto the Paunsagunt Plateau and across Bryce Canyon National Park. It then drops into the Paria River Valley, passes through several tiny villages, crosses some extraordinary (for anywhere but this region) badlands, and descends the Escalante River into Potato Valley. While a driver may justifiably feel she has seen some scenery by that point, the highway is just getting started, for in the next stretch, it crosses a labyrinth of multicolored sandstone humps and corridors, climaxed by a narrow hogback with steep slickrock drops to each side, all within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Reaching the oasis of Boulder within this desert of rock, the road then climbs across the flank of the Aquarius Plateau, providing spectacular vistas and terminating at the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park. Along the way side roads and trails access the vast wilderness of the Paria and Escalante Rivers and the high plateaus they drain. Congress acknowledged the unequaled splendor of Highway 12 by designating it one of a handful of All-American Roads.

To travel with Christian Probasco this road and its spurs, which lead deep into some of the wildest, most broken-up and stunning landscapes anywhere, can put a unique twist on an already singular experience. He knows the region as well as anyone and brings an original, edgy, youthful view to it. His opinions and his language may challenge you. His approaches to and perspectives on the land may sometimes surprise you. His understanding of the area's history and its people will likely teach you a thing or two.

 

Tennessee is an NHA

4 - Tennessee Civil War National Historical Area

This NHA covers the entire state of Tennessee

The Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area tells the whole story of America's greatest challenge, 1860-1875: the powerful stories of vicious warfare, the demands of the homefront and occupation, the freedom of emancipation, and the enduring legacies of Reconstruction.

The photo is from the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee

Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area

Leveraging federal, state, local and private funding, we empower communities and individuals to serve as good stewards of their historic places and stories. Professional Services and Outreach helps property owners and organizations develop heritage programs and projects. Through Collaborative Partnerships, organizations, local governments, and non-profits can apply for 50/50 matching funds for projects including interpretive tours, exhibits, educational materials, and preservation planning. For a copy of the application and instructions, click here.

An NHA in Illinois

5 - Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area

This NHA is in the Springfield, Illinois, area

The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition, LFL for short, is a consortium of Illinois communities that share the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the coalition is to tell the stories about Lincoln unique to each site and each community. But Lincoln history alone is not enough. The Lincoln stories must be shared in a creative way. So, in order to create a real visitor experience each site in the LFL program must offer some level of interpretive programming. While focusing upon Lincoln, the coalition also encompasses the rich history of each participating community in order to create a broader context for Lincoln and his times.

Photo is the exterior of the Lincoln Museum in Springfield (Illinois)

Abraham Linclon National Heritage Area

The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition, LFL for short, is a consortium of Illinois communities that share the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the coalition is to tell the stories about Lincoln unique to each site and each community. But Lincoln history alone is not enough. The Lincoln stories must be shared in a creative way. So, in order to create a real visitor experience each site in the LFL program must offer some level of interpretive programming. While focusing upon Lincoln, the coalition also encompasses the rich history of each participating community in order to create a broader context for Lincoln and his times.

The participating communities and sites are not only linked to each other, but are also tied closely to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. The Looking for Lincoln program makes it possible to extend the reach of the Library and Museum so that the museum exhibits are just the beginning of the Lincoln adventure. We want visitors to actually go to the real places where Lincoln spent time.

An NHA in Virginia

Monticello - Home of Thomas Jefferson
Monticello - Home of Thomas Jefferson

6 - The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area

Gettysburg to Monticello

Extending from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, through Maryland and West Virginia, and ending at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia, The Journey Through Hallowed Ground is a fascinating glimpse into American history, teeming with battlefields, historic sites, charming towns, and breathtaking natural beauty. Learn more about how we can help you get the most out of your visit to this legendary region.

JTHG Partners realize the importance of protecting and preserving the heritage and cultural resources of the Civil War battlefields, National Parks, and historic sites within this legendary region extending from Gettysburg, PA to Monticello, VA.

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area - Explore the Joureny

The mission of The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership is to develop a cohesive vision for the conservation of this vibrant historical region extending from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, through Maryland and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to Jefferson's Monticello in Albemarle County, Virginia.

An NHA in Kansas

Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education

7 - Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area

Stories of our Struggle for Freedom

Events that happened in the 29 eastern Kansas and 12 western Missouri counties of Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area led to the Civil War and an enduring struggle for freedom. Conflict over slavery and other issues drew those on both sides into a violent Border War. Missouri heroes were Kansas villains. Kansas victories were Missouri tragedies. Now Freedom's Frontier bridges the border. Explore Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area and experience from many viewpoints the strong freedom story that runs along the Missouri Kansas border.

Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area

For the half million pioneers who traveled on the Santa Fe, California, Mormon, and Oregon Trails, the Missouri/Kansas border was the jumping off point. In this place where river travel ended, traders, miners, and emigrants purchased provisions and prepared for long overland treks. As they traveled west, many began to see the "permanent" Indian frontier beyond Missouri's western border as an obstacle to Manifest Destiny.

An NHA in New Jersey

Washington Crossing the Delaware
Washington Crossing the Delaware

8 - Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area

New Jersey in the American Revolution

All told, New Jersey played a pivotal role in the American Revolution. Washington’s main army spent nearly six years on New Jersey soil, wintering three times in the Watchung Mountains, including important encampments at Morristown, Middlebrook and Pluckemin. The Continental Congress, which had been forced to flee Philadelphia, was meeting in Princeton when news reached it, in late 1783, that the Treaty of Paris had been signed, formally ending the war.

Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area

Crossroads of the American Revolution Association was founded in 2002 as the only state-wide non-profit organization established to offer a forum for new citizen initiatives on education, historical interpretation, site use and heritage tourism; and to raise popular appreciation of the historical significance of the American Revolution in New Jersey. We involve local communities and other partners to revitalize our historic cities and towns by reclaiming, enhancing and linking our threatened Revolutionary War sites and heritage landscapes. By promoting cultural and heritage tourism we will gain national and international visibility for New Jersey’s irreplaceable Revolutionary War landscapes and sites and promote economic development.

An NHA in North Carolina

Deep Gap overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina
Deep Gap overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina

9 - Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

A Part of North Carolina, Appalachian, Cherokee and American History

The mission of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership is to protect, preserve, interpret, and develop the unique natural, historical, and cultural resources of Western North Carolina for the benefit of present and future generations, and in so doing to sustain our heritage and stimulate improved economic opportunity in our region.

The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina are among the oldest mountains on Earth. The landscape is full of superlatives: the highest mountain (Mount Mitchell), deepest gorge (Linville Gorge), and highest waterfall (Whitewater Falls) in the eastern United States; the oldest river in North America (the New River); and the two most visited National Park lands in the country (the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park). The region is also blessed with a stunning diversity of plant and animal life; more, in fact, than the whole of Europe.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

But there is more to the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area than just its mountains, for out of those mountains grew a rich cultural heritage as well. The birthplace of the Cherokee's advanced early civilization, the region, is, today, home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians which continues to preserve many facets of traditional Cherokee culture.

Beginning in the eighteenth century European and African settlers moved into the mountains. The relative isolation of mountain life helped these settlers nourish and preserve many traditions, especially handmade crafts.

An NHA in Arizona

Yuma Quartermaster's Depot State Historic Park in Yuma, Arizona
Yuma Quartermaster's Depot State Historic Park in Yuma, Arizona

10 - Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area

Transforming Yuma's Riverfront

The Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area will conserve, enhance, and interpret the natural and cultural resources of the community through collaboration and partnerships.

Identify and conserve Yuma's cultural, historical, and geologic resources, recognizing that resource conservation is part of community revitalization.

Assist partners to develop a diversity of interpretative opportunities, venues, and heritage sites while distinguishing between different levels of the heritage experience.

Interpret Yuma's heritage resources to emphasize their continuing role in a living, evolving community.

Support and build upon existing interpretative efforts, creating dynamic partnerships with federal, state, and local entities.

Attract visitors, investment, and economic opportunity to Yuma to improve the quality of life for its residents.

Create a gateway to Yuma to welcome and orient visitors and to provide an overview of the areas's significance.

Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area

For decades, Yuma has sought to reconnect the community to its most precious natural asset -- the Colorado River. Although recognized for its historic importance as the Yuma Crossing National Historic Landmark, the downtown riverfront had become blighted from divided and complicated ownership, industrial uses, and disuse. The City of Yuma and State of Arizona had worked to create the Yuma Crossing State Historic Park in 1997, but it wasn't until the establishment of the Heritage Area and the formation of a public/private partnership in 1999, that real progress was achieved. The Heritage Area has committed $1,080,000 -- nearly half of its total NPS funding and much of its staff efforts to advance the Riverfront District. The City of Yuma asked Heritage Area staff to work with the City's development partner, Clark-Lankford, LLC of La Jolla, California, to undertake a six-year effort of joint planning, land assembly, and public improvements. It has taken the cooperation of all parties and considerable creativity, flexibility, and innovation to overcome very difficult constraints: physical, legal, and historical. The results, however, will truly transform Yuma's riverfront: $30 million of private investment has already taken place in 2008, with the total projected at $100 million over the next five years.

I listed my ten... If you'd like to make a recommendation, please feel free to do so now! OK?

OK, your chance to recommend an NHA to include

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    • profile image

      Kathleen Benedict 5 months ago

      there are 3 National Heritage Areas in Colorado; Cache la Poudre River NHA, South Park NHA and Sangri de Cristo NHA! All super unique and a window into America's Western Heritage!!

    • CamelliaPenny profile image

      Perrin 3 years ago from South Carolina

      Nice article! (Is that what we call them over here? I guess I have to stop saying "lens.") I have been to one or two of these.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @TanoCalvenoa: Great idea! Enjoy! ;-)

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      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      They're all located east of where I am, in California. I'd like to check out the one called Great Basin National Heritage Route. That's one of three far enough west that I could drive to it, and the other two are areas I already know pretty well.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @Bercton1: Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it! ;-)

    • Bercton1 profile image

      Bercton1 4 years ago

      Great historical sites. Very interesting lens!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @happy-birthday: It was my pleasure. Thank you, very much! ;-)

    • happy-birthday profile image

      Birthday Wishes 4 years ago from Here

      You shared a wonderful list, I have nothing to add... Thanks a lot for sharing this wonderful lens!!!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @RinchenChodron: For sure! I wrote a column on that one. Fantastic, for sure! ;-)

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 4 years ago

      Tennessee Civil War National Historical Are

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Sadly, I have only visited one of these. I am going to have to try harder to see more.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @CampingmanNW: Much appreciated... me too! ;-)

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 4 years ago

      I always enjoy someone's lens who loves to travel and see this great country. Thanks for a great lens

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @sheezie77: Thank you! ;-)

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @Millionairemomma: Absolutely. Thank you for your comment! ;-)

    • profile image

      sheezie77 5 years ago

      I really enjoy this lens, great job! Squidlike

    • Millionairemomma profile image

      Millionairemomma 5 years ago

      America IS chock full of great places to see! Thanks for reminding us!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @Scarlettohairy: Can be quite a drive. Thanks for commenting and at least thinking about it! ;-)

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Thanks for this comprehensive list of sites. Yuma is close to me but not sure when I'll make it to that part of Arizona.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @Camden1: I'm happy I was able to introduce you to them! They tell great stories, if we but pay attention. Thanks for the visits! ;-)

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 5 years ago

      I wasn't aware of any of these sites - thanks for sharing!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @Write4U LM: Yuma Crossing is not too far from So Cal... Thanks for your comment! ;-)

    • Write4U LM profile image

      Write4U LM 5 years ago

      Sadly, these are all some distance from in Southern California. Hopefully I'll get to see one of them some day.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thanks for your comments. Keep them coming. These are great places to visit - hope you will plan to do so! ;-)

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      These are most certainly places I'd love to visit sometime - thanks for sharing!

    • TTMall profile image

      TTMall 5 years ago

      It looks very helpful. Thank you very much!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      A very lovely list and article highlighting them all. Love the Smoky Mountains. So beautiful. :)

    • JEMArtistry profile image

      JEMArtistry 5 years ago

      This look like great places to visit. :)

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Some great options here

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @MartieG: Thank you! I'd really like to move forward with a lens on each of the NHAs. I think it is a great concept! As good as or better than new National Parks, which we are unlikely to get, anytime soon. I like the focus on local sites, with an overriding theme! ;-)

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @bofirebear: My pleasure. I consider them the latter day National Parks, since, politically we are unlikely to get any more of those. Based on existing local sites, the NHA is a great concept! Thanks for your comment! ;-)

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      @DIY Mary: And great people to work with, as well. I worked with many of them when I was a professor in the Kansas Flint Hills - we were promoting a Kansas Flint Hills National Heritage Area. I was a tough process, but worth the local, community effort! Thanks for the comment! ;-)

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      Raised in Virginia and love the Hallowed Ground area - what an interesting lens! :>)

    • bofirebear profile image

      bofirebear 5 years ago

      Been to some of these but have a few more to visit. Thanks for adding to my list of places to see.

    • DIY Mary profile image

      DIY Mary 5 years ago

      It's nice to know that there is at least one National Heritage Area that is fairly close to where I live (i.e., the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area in Missouri). It looks like a great place to visit!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image
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      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you! I have been to the Henry Ford Museum, as well. Both of those you mention are part of/partners in the MotorCities National Heritage Areas - No. 2, below. Great suggestions! ;-)

      This is a good example, actually. Each NHA is a grouping, a collaboration, of local, independent sites! ;-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village Dearborn Michigan. I am not sure if the is a National Heritage Area, but it should be. The Yankee Airforce Museum in Belleville Michingan. I have been to both.