Property Rights Foundation of America®

- By Carol W. LaGrasse (Reprinted from Positions on Property, Vol. 3, No. 1, Jan.-April 1996)

The American Heritage Areas—A Back Door to Federal Zoning

Natural riparian corridors are a key to national wildlands preservation effort

For over two years, an enormous consortium of wealthy interest groups has been trying to sell Congress on a porkbarrel program that will give the National Park Service and other federal agencies unconstitutional control over local zoning. The porkbarrel of visitor interpretation centers, economic development and the like are the sleazy mass of pottage whereby the birthrights of home-rule and private property rights are being traded.

A network of hundreds of growth management commissions, several in each state as well as multi-state commissions, would gradually effectuate the zoning regimes sought by preservationists in each corridor and area. In most cases, local agencies would carry the gun for the state and federal progenitors and the elites who are the genesis of zoning. Although unified at the upper levels, the Heritage growth management zoning, like so many greenway and coastal management programs, would effectuate itself at each of the fragmented local levels without effective local opposition or necessarily even awareness that the program was a federal preservation system being applied across the face of America. Thus the local fragmentation so decried by elite preservationists who would centralize control of zoning would be a key to their ability to control local land use.

Congress is carefully holding almost no local hearings on the individual heritage area designations. An example of a rare Congressional hearing, held in Glens Falls, New York, on the Champlain-Hudson Heritage area drew such vociferous opposition that U.S. Senator James Jeffords, the Vermont proponent, put the idea aside for 2 years. The Constitutional requirement of due process - notice and a chance to be heard - is handily held in abeyance until the zoning has worked its way down to implementation on the local level, as is currently the case with federal coastal zone management intrusions and related porkbarrel. By the time federal zoning works its way down to the local level or the level of a state commission, the local and state officials will be in the comfortable position of "having to" implement the federal-state contract.

The American Heritage Area program has gone by several other names, National Heritage Areas, Heritage Corridors, and various Industrial Heritage entitled Areas. One Congressional bill was deviously entitled the National Technical Assistance Act. But all have one element in common: the National Park Service obtains control over local zoning for a region by contracting with a state-level agency which is required to impose growth management controls that suit the federal government.

Other federal agencies are also involved. In the proposed Mississippi River Corridor project which Marilyn Hayman of Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, heroically exposed to scrutiny, the U.S. Environmental Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and agencies of the U.S. Department of Interior are studying virtually every aspect of the valley, from agriculture to local music.

Although Congress has designated six American Heritage Area programs, the generic program so ardently sought by the powerful historical-environmental consortium has been held up by the solid opposition of the nationwide private property rights movement, from the east coast to Alaska, and land-based producers who don't relish additional regulatory possibilities.

The Interest Groups
The initial interests who stood to gain from the Heritage program have used their generous foundation and government support to cultivate an array of organizations, consultants, agencies, and state, federal and local officials that are enormous, wealthy, and diverse, in a word, extremely powerful. They routinely use federal and state government funding to lobby for more power for themselves.

The names are all too familiar: The Conservation Fund, The Trust for Public Land, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, National Endowment for the Arts, The Countryside Institute, the relatively new National Coalition for Heritage Areas sponsored by the National Trust, and so many others.

The wealth of elites with a lifetime of prominent advocacy for greenways make their ranks swell with erudition, names like landscape author Tony Hiss and National Parks Service Director, author and natural historian Roger Kennedy.

The vocabulary charms: brownfields (industrial heritage), greenways (strip parks of government and regulated private land), scenic byways (regulated travel routes where history and viewsheds are protected), main streets (decaying downtowns somehow brought to life by regulation and tourism), riverways (water and shore uses for canoers, kayakers, whitewater enthusiasts, hikers, but not industry or homeowners), natural linkages (regulated strips of land between historic sites or views), linear commons (streamways, ridgelines, transportation corridors, where "the title to ownership of such lands may be lodged in private hands, but the public's interest in their use and conservation is generally understood"(1)), landscape connectedness (of the "urban-rural greenway infrastructure"(2)), thematically related, cultural tourism, gateways, corridors, rails-to-trails, culture of hospitality, folklife, active recreation. A core word is linkage. (The linear commons provides linkages to individual parks and nature sanctuaries, "like beads on a string."(3) The word also carries a "symbolic message" of linkage of "recreational and cultural resources, of wildlife populations"(4) and "rural and urban spaces."(5))

Words like tax impact, gentrification, substandard structures, incomes, or population stabilization are absent. It's all very elite, very urbane and very youth-oriented. Very much like the National Park Service, which demolishes culture and creates replicas for tourists. Traditions are for tourist consumption. But a bit higher brow than Disney recreations. Unlike the recreation centers of mass-culture, the consumptive history and tourism of the Heritage corridors is achieved through political pressure, focused largess by the wealthy and government, and regulation, not the give and take of the marketplace. Profits and prestige are still collected, however.

The aggressive attitude of Heritage area interest groups toward the taxpayers' money was exquisitely focused at the National Conference on Heritage Areas in Baltimore in March, where Tom Gallager, the Secretary of the National Coalition of Heritage Areas, said,

"We need to invent more siphons into revenue streams."(6)

Even though it is an elaborate undercover operation, the Heritage system operates very simply, centered in government power and money.

The Gravy Train
Local, State and Federal officials get porkbarrel of two types by allowing federal zoning in through the back door of Heritage corridor designations. The obvious type of porkbarrel is physical plant. A visitor interpretation center such as that in the Columbia River Gorge or the one sought for the City of Kingston, New York, on the Hudson waterfront, or restoration efforts at Oriskany Battlefield, also in New York, are examples.

The second type of local or state lucre devolving from the designation is the governing commission itself with its salaries and opportunities for favoritism and the other offices and emoluments that spin off all the way through the process.

The gravy train also rewards planning, landscape, historical and architectural consultants all the way down the line and the same wealthy non-profits who lobby the projects to success, later slurp at the rich tits at the taxpayer's and local community's expense. The consultants and non-profits design greenways, broker deals, build and exploit trails, buy land and resell it to government, create town plans and zoning laws, and continually recycle the process, to their own enrichment.

The Regulatory Diversity
Citizens who want a single easy key to the Heritage area process of private property regimentation miss the idea. There is no question that the biggest threat right now is the National Heritage Area plan and that it must be stopped. Under this federal system a network of Heritage regimes could cover most of the country except for certain vast western lands and peaks, each region under a commission which is under contract with the Secretary of Interior to control land use in accord with a preservation vision. The control would be dished out in a variety of ways, many quite sugar-coated. The growth management laws in place in states like Oregon, or in regions like the interstate Columbia River Gorge are the sort of controls that would come in. In New York's Adirondacks, for instance, a local town can have back "control" over most local land-use if it tightens its zoning to the standards of the state's Adirondack Park Commission. The Columbia River Gorge counties fought over details like takings liability but accepted the federal mandate, whereas over 90 percent of the 100-plus Adirondack towns and villages held out, unwilling to carry the guns for a repressive commission.

But, although the commission system after which the federal Heritage program is modeled is the most important single program, paramount in importance to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, there are many regulatory and acquisition agencies that crisscross and overlap to sew up the Heritage system and achieve its ends singly or in combination.

Rails-to trails projects involve land acquisition (much involve illegal takings inflicted on unsuspecting owners), the creation of greenways, the favoritism of transients over farmers, local fisherman and hunters, all part of a pattern, either intentional or inadvertent, of harassment of established land-based community traditions. Lawsuits won by one set of property owners are disregarded by neighboring jurisdictions.

Scenic byways involve zoning of viewsheds and restrictions which often leave local property unfeasible for uses intended by its owners. The byways are often designated by State transportation departments, apparently superseding local zoning without notice or consent. Scenic byways and rails-to-trails are favorite environmental mitigation projects funded by the federal ISTEA (7) spigot.

Main streets, downtown rehabilitation, waterfront rehabilitation and similarly named projects are part of the greenway or Heritage area "carrots," by which local government is persuaded to carry the stick for preservationists. The stick is tight zoning that forecloses most business development and ties up land in its natural condition. The New York Department of State, purporting to be a friendly agency, provides the "guidance" to persuade Hudson River Greenway towns to accept its strictures in return for certain economic benefits under State Hudson River Greenway law.

It is not too hard for local officials to accept the role of carrying the gun for State and Federal agencies. They have been sold for years through "training" and pressure by elites to do planning and perceive it for the good of their communities. Some are taken in by the high sounding way of all the planning language and the associated professionals. Others may not want to stand in the way of the future. Moreover, local officials like the power it gives them in the expansion of planning and zoning law. Some even find it a tool to consolidate their corruption. The "economic development" moneys are just icing on the cake. To some officials and to others they are funds for their community which they do not feel they can decline.

Coastal zones, estuarine areas, tidal wetlands, riverfronts, canal restorations, scenic rivers, river basin programs, natural rivers plans and the like are programs that generally stop all construction for distances a minimum of 100' from waters edge, but vary to 200', 400', 500', and miles from waterways and, increasingly, their tributaries. "Non-point source pollution," household pollution, viewsheds, pesticides, cultivation, forestry and any other imaginable use or offshoot of a use can be brought into debate to stop human activity except those uses which threaten private property such as rails-to-trails or greenway trails.

It was from this fertile water-land interface that the perversion of the public trust doctrine was cultivated into its bleak adolescence. In the English and American tradition, the public trust idea was to maximize the social benefit of waterways, so that they would not be toll roads. The concept is being expanded by groups like the Sierra Club who test-trespass nonnavigable private waterways to obtain court sanction for their incursion and by states who covet land along streams and lakes.

A broader legal ruse threatens all private property. This obfuscation of the Constitution defines public rights to the so-called "public resources on private lands."

So the Heritage area concept, because it is so often centered on waterways, does come around to the single most obnoxious aspect of the environmental movement.

All of the programs are closely tied to the broader Heritage area designations. The studies that precede any of the designations are designed to pave the way to the programs themselves, which are to ultimately restrict private property ownership, move private property into government hands and reduce the use of land by people.

The zoning programs that will be brought in under the Heritage auspices will have all of the usual and more creative new features of historical preservation, waterfront protection, urbanized and hamletized development (but not too dense, too tall, too creative, or too profitable for small business or accessible to mid- or low-income buyers), extreme restrictions on rural and urban residential development. Requirements will include costly studies and mitigations that only large developers can cope with, environmental restrictions that foreclose much rural development, and intrusions in the management on agricultural and forest lands that tend to work with tax pressures to drive land ownership to non-profit land trusts and government holdings.

As the area is "recognized" by the designation, environmental pressures on industry will increase. The designation will be just one more key to the "success" of forcing industry to bow to environmentalists with purchases of land to donate to government and outright cash donations to environmental groups.

Under the pressure of federally-induced zoning and selective zoning pressures created locally, and land acquisitions by non-profits and government, tax burdens and shifts will drive land ownership out of private hands in a self-feeding process created and aided by the designation.

Ultimate directions
It would be foolish not to notice that the same individuals, groups, and agencies that promote and carry out the Heritage program up front are allied with programs that are geared to depopulating rural America, reducing the use of land for forestry, agriculture and all other resource-based production (while pretending to promote agriculture and forestry as "open space" uses) and restoring areas for habitations of wildlife and for migrations of species.

Survival and migration of species are key reasons for Heritage Areas which are strips of land, greenway corridors, most commonly along rivers. Central to all of the natural resource preservation, "conservation biology," biosphere reserve/wildlands core-buffer-transition thinking has been the concept of "land bridges," by whatever name. The idea is that strips of land link natural areas to allow wildlife migration, especially if "global warming" occurs and plants must migrate. As I explained in "The Glory of Environmentalism,"(8) the wildlands exposé accompanying my original alarum on the Mississippi River Corridor, the corridors, following river beds, are the preservationists' ideal fertile lands for the movement of species. The corridors are strips of environmentally rich littoral zones, ideal for buffering the stresses of wildlife in its survival mode during long-term migrations. Thus the successions of nature will have greater diversity in the event of natural or human-made climate swings or apocalyptic changes the preservationists preoccupy themselves with.

What is the goal of all these land-use control systems? Although historical preservation is a genuine goal, there is a complementary driving force to restore the American countryside to a natural state. The goal is limitless, as demonstrated by the Reed Noss-James Foreman, et al. Wildlands program (promoted with funding from the Pew Charitable Trust), but it is piecemeal in its effort. As Charles Little wrote in the seminal Greenways for America (backed by the Conservation Fund and the Rockefellers' American Conservation Association), the current "mess" of the American countryside would be aptly fragmented by hundreds of greenways, the raw grid of a restoration program. "As I have said, regional greenway networks will not clean up the mess. But the idea of establishing such an infrastructure might very well give us a new and less controversial approach to regional planning by providing a geophysical framework for it, which, unlike that of highways and 'high-tension' lines, is the framework of the landscape itself." (9)

This relatively gentle theme statement from Little is very parallel to the heart of the wildlands program in a description of wildlife corridors in Reed Noss's "Wildlands Project" paper calling for restoration to wilderness of 50 percent of the land area of the U.S. during the next twenty-odd years:

"Core reserves and primary corridors in a regional network should enclose and link critical areas in a continuous system of natural habitat wherever possible." (10)

"Eventually, a wilderness network would dominate a region and thus would constitute the matrix, with human habitations being the islands." (11)

The "land bridges" concept of "wildlife highways" especially along river corridors or riparian ways linking wildlife areas to each other is an outgrowth of the work of R.H. MacArthur and E.O. Wilson on "island biogeography" during the 1960's, expanded two decades later by wildlife biologists, notably Larry D. Harris, with the concepts of "landscape linkages," especially riparian woods, as "dispersal corridors" for wildlife preservation.(12)

The "Heritage" corridor system is thus a perfect methodology to advance the extreme "wildlands" vision promulgated in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve model of core, corridor and buffer/transition areas. These have been made "official" by the UN/National Park Service/US Department of State for 47 designations in the U.S. All quite secretly, also, because publicity brings rejection.

The environmentalists' preoccupation with and willingness to sacrifice for the Heritage program can not be rationally explained by a vision of tourism, cultural preservation or local history.

The Heritage program would set up federal control of land-use planning in virtually all of rural America, giving immense power to environmentalists while taking control of land away from private property owners. At the same time, the Heritage program both prepares for a natural apocalypse and provides the grid for re-wilding America.

The Heritage program is slick to lobby on behalf of, because environmentalists can simper, "Aw gee, what are the property rights freaks imagining now? This is not a big program for us. It is just historic preservation." They can move from corridor to corridor and mutate from one river greenway program to another. They can take a few Heritage Areas each year if they can't pass the generic program in Congress. And the wealthy granting sources can select and create entities that have different hats than the usual gaggle, and appear to be working for landscape preservation, a vague enough goal.

But the truth is that the Heritage Area program is a catastrophic proposal for our constitutional rights and economic future. When I wrote in 1994 it was clear to few that the Mississippi River Corridor program alone could "surgically remove the aorta of America."(13) Today the regionalization and re-wilding efforts of environmentalists are bizarrely frank. Many Americans have heard of the UN Agenda 21, the UN Biodiversity Treaty rejected by the Senate but going full steam ahead in the Babbitt/Gore Interior Department, the UN Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites, and the crude treatment of Americans by the Gestapo of federal and state environmental officers. The sense of uneasiness in the west was intense when UN officials traveled from Paris to pressure the United States not to allow a gold mine in the "Greater Rockies Ecosystem," even though few Westerners know that the know that the Greater Rockies Ecosystem idea is driven by elite wealth like the Rockefellers' Jackson Hole Preserve and the Pew Charitable Trust or that Secretary of Interior Babbitt himself used American taxpayer dollars to get the UNESCO officials here to grandstand.

The potential quiet apocalypse of our rights is widely feared. People feel the drain of America's free spirit as power is consolidated in the name of environmental, historic and cultural preservation, and other causes.

This sense of the sinister among many people rankles the liberal press, even though they are often mouthpieces for the far-fetched musings of extremists over micropollutants and planetary ecological collapse.

Well-informed, empowered citizenry, rather than the established press or officialdom, will be the source to scorn the insider power of elites and turn back their self-serving infringements on our Constitutional rights.

The citizen blockade of the Heritage Area program demonstrates the strength of grassroots America. Great sums of money have been spent by those of power and wealth to promote the Heritage project. People of little financial resources and power have stymied it.

These are times for Americans to prosper and be free.

"I would like to comment on the property rights thing… I would also say that in a way, we need to also ignore the property rights movement…
"It's not leading with regulation to make things happen, it's following it to protect what the community itself had decided it wants to do."

- Mary Means, President of Mary Means & Assoc., Inc.,
Alexandria, VA and board member, National
Coalition of Heritage Areas.(14)

(1) Charles E. Little Greenways for America (John Hopkins University Press, 1990), p34
(2) Tony Hiss and Charles Little, as cited in Little, Ibid. p135
(3) Little, Ibid. p36
(4) Little, Ibid. p37
(5) Little, Ibid. p133
(6) Tom Gallager, at "Rally 2: Working for America's real places - A National Conference on Heritage Areas" - March 31 to April 2, 1996, - Baltimore, MD, transcribed by Brian Seasholes, Competitive Enterprise Institute.
(7) Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act of 1991
(8) LaGrasse, Positions on Property Vol. 1, No. 2 1994, p S-11
(9) Charles E. Little, Ibid. p 136, emphasis added
(10) Reed F. Noss. "The Wildlands Project - Land Conservation Strategy" c. December 1992 Wild Earth, p14
(11) Noss, Ibid, p15
(12) Larry D. Harris, "Special Visual Presentation. Landscape Linkages: The Dispersal Corridor Approach to Wildlife Conservation," Transactions of the 53rd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference (1988), pp 598ff
(13) LaGrasse, Ibid. p S-1
(14) Mary Means, "Rally 2" Ibid.

Back to:

Heritage Rivers and Areas - National

Positions on Property PRFA Home Page

© 1996 Property Rights Foundation of America ®.
All rights reserved. This material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.