Property Rights Foundation of America®

National Heritage Areas

By Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America

Before the
U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Senate Dirksen 366
March 30, 2004


Thank you for the honor and opportunity of testifying today at the oversight hearing on National Heritage Areas. My name is Carol W. LaGrasse, President, Property Rights Foundation of America, based in Stony Creek, New York. I am a retired civil and environmental engineer.

The National Heritage Area program is designed to gradually accomplish federal land use control, across especially the Eastern and Midwestern parts of the United States, without passage of national land use planning legislation by the Congress. The Heritage Area program also has the goal of transferring private land to government. The state and federal governments already own over 42 percent of the land in the United States. In 1994, I publicized a list kept by the National Trust for Historic Preservation of over 100 Heritage Areas under development. The House Natural Resources Committee made a map from that list, which showed the shocking extent to the program already at that time. As you know, direct national land use control would be much too unpopular to be enacted, as would be one single national greenway program encompassing the full extent of the National Heritage Areas, American Heritage Rivers, Stewardship areas, National Park Service trails, and other federal areas being individually enacted.

In the State of New Jersey, there are eight federal areas under the Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service covering almost half the state. Now proposed in the Congress in various stages are six additional Heritage Areas and the like to cover virtually the entire rest of the state.(1)

The main selling points for National Heritage Areas are tourism, economic development, historic preservation, and protection of riverways. The word "greenway" is not used. Yet, National Heritage Areas are plainly greenways, areas where the purpose is landscape preservation by land use regulation and land acquisition by government and its surrogates.(2) In addition, and importantly, a theme trail is associated with each greenway. The elements of the National Heritage Areas fulfill the goal of "landscape connectedness," a textbook purpose of greenways. It is important for a greenway to have what is referred to as an "ensemblage" [not "ensemble," a dictionary word of commonly understood meaning] of sites related to the supposed theme. This is an important element that gives the ostensible reason for the overall geographic definition of the Heritage Area. If the Heritage Area did not have a geographic definition, it would be impossible for the real goal of landscape preservation to be accomplished.(3)

Through the powerful tool of National Heritage Areas, the National Park Service focuses its efforts at the greenway model. The enabling statutes effectively provide for it to have this function. In each area, multiple programs in concert with other agencies at state, federal, regional, local and especially multi-jurisdictional levels, along with various not-profits, focus on land use planning, land acquisition, and trail development. All of the relationships among agencies and non-profits are referred to as "partnerships." The auspices of the National Park Service is effectively diffused, so that the public eye would have to be excruciatingly trained to follow the relationships and the flow of authority, instigation, and especially cash incentives. In addition, local government is subverted and coopted, becoming a tool of the skilled Park Service, non-profit, and consultant manipulators. At each National Heritage Area, at least one not-profit agency (4) is generally created expressly under the tutelage of the National Park Service to perhaps be the so-called "management entity" and focus the accomplishment of the greenway or to develop its related trail or multiple trails or canalway trails while concomitantly directing attention away from the Park Service. Multiple new non-profits are instigated for various trails, quite surreptitiously. New and existing not-profits serve also as channels for cash from various federal agencies to consultants, outside of public inspection under freedom of information law.

Congressional funding is used for several purposes: The first is studies, which, unfortunately, are geared to landscape preservation, often under the supposed rationale of historical preservation. Congress may proscribe funding under the Heritage Area law from being used for land acquisition, but this is immaterial, because the National Park Service has built relationships with multiple federal and state agencies where land acquisition funds can be exploited.

Lavish funds are provided for outreach. A National Heritage Area meeting that I attended recently, which was one of a series of informational affairs and was attended by about thirty to forty individuals, was hosted by seven National Park Service personnel and consultants. National Park Service personnel refused to divulge the annual budget for this Heritage Area until queried several times, and then could not reveal the funding available from other agencies. (5)

Sites are developed for tourism and historical preservation. The "connectedness" of these sites is a rational for regional land use controls.

A National Heritage Area can put a new National Park on the agenda. Such an example is the proposed Homestead Works National Park advocated by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area on their web site. (6)

Trails are a serious threat to private property today. As spin-offs of the specific legislation or under parallel legislation (7), trails are an important facet of National Heritage Areas, where connectivity is essential. They are developed in segments, again according to textbook design for success. Eminent domain may not be directly exercised by the National Park Service, but is indeed threatened or exercised by the associated localities for the segments of a trail, each often separated from another segment so that the common threat is unrecognized. During public questioning, the Park Service refuses to address how these "partnerships," as I've called them, drawing on the Park Service term, to accomplish condemnation of private property work.(8)

Planning studies are instigated, in connection with funding for site improvements and in connection with the management plan, which is also funded by Congress. Strict land use controls are facilitated with planning projects.

Reforms proposed in response objections by those concerned with infringements on private property rights have been largely irrelevant.

Prohibiting funding from the program from being used to acquire land, and prohibiting condemnation, will have no effect, because funding and condemnation are available through other programs and agencies, as I explained above. Prohibiting the National Park Service from imposing zoning in connection with the program is irrelevant because the Park Service does not do this directly. However, the Park Service argues for and instigates the imposition of stronger zoning controls.(9)

The inclusion of an opt-out provision might appear desirable, but is irrelevant because people would not know about it, and because the Heritage Area boundary would remain. The inclusion of an opt-in provision is feasible, considering that tax notices are routinely sent to all property owners. Even a complex geographically bounded roster can be culled easily in many jurisdictions by utilizing GIS. However, this provision is not worthwhile enacting because the boundary of the Heritage Area would still exist, along with the related greenway goals and programs. A property owner might opt out of the Heritage Area, but the land would be located in it and bear the brunt of the landscape preservation, trail development, economic design to eliminate non-compatible uses and gear the area toward tourism and nature, and the gradual increase in tax burden.

What reforms could preserve the opportunity for federal funding to preserve heritage, while eliminating the enabling framework for the National Park Service to develop greenways, to accomplish landscape preservation? It is not necessary to eliminate promotion and preservation of important historic sites in order to get the federal government out of landscape preservation.

First, on a mundane level, Congress should legislate requirements to improve fiscal accountability and increase openness to public scrutiny. In addition, Congress should enact changes geared to eliminate the greenway potential of the Heritage promotion program.

Eliminate the definition of a geographic area where the heritage program would exist. Instead, the Heritage program, perhaps called "Heritage Promotion," could be directed to Heritage block grants of moneys allocated state-by-state in proportion to population or federal tax contribution through an agency that is not geared to landscape preservation, such as Housing and Urban Development, National Endowment for the Arts, or Department of Commerce. No gatekeepers for funding grants should be allowed at the state level, to prevent the program from falling under the auspices of a state greenway agency.

Prohibit all the partnerships with the agency presiding over the block grants or grants to multiple grantee agencies, confining the transfer of federal moneys expressly to straightforward block grants competitively proposed under a process established by Congress. Prohibit the National Park Service or any other agency from promotional work for its policies at the local level, and from studies of historical areas or regional areas. Keep the National Park Service out of all programs except for parks. Prohibit the Park Service from working with non-profit agencies to promote its goals.

The National Park Service trails program should be inventoried and defined, as to its current and envisioned extent, as decided by Congress. Studies of new trails should be scrutinized by Congress. National Park Service personnel should be prohibited from participating in the feasibility studies, development of trails, or participating in developing support organizations. All federal trails should be publicly laid out in their full extent from the beginning, at the proposal stage and all property owners notified at that stage. The full width and ramifications of the trail should be spelled out legislatively in the conceptual stage. Protections for property owners should be put in place.

Trail development could be administered by the Department of Transportation and all eminent domain protections that exist under the federal highway laws applied to federal trail construction.

Legislation should prohibit segmented development of trails and the adoption of pieces of trails by separate local jurisdictions or non-profits for future joining into a full-length federal trail.

No additional federal areas should be established and no further development of trails in the United States should take place until a full inventory of lands owned by the federal and state government, and of federal areas such as National Heritage Areas, is completed.

Where funding for National Heritage programs or studies is to be renewed, similar reforms should be instituted.

Living in a town controlled by overarching regional zoning and overlapping designations, and experiencing the influence of not-profit organizations, with half the town owned by the State government, I know first-hand how these programs hurt the local culture and economy. The National Heritage Area program is not just pork-barrel. It certainly is not economic development. It is pure preservationism, and should be drastically curtailed.



(1) See PRFA web site for two color coded diagrams of New Jersey at:

(2) In the seminal work Greenways for America commissioned by the Conservation Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefellers' American Conservation Association, author Charles E. Little bemoans the "mess" created by the lack of regional planning in America and welcomes greenways as a way toward better "settlement patterns."

Referring to a landscape preservationist, Little writes, "In the phrase of author Tony Hiss, what the urban-rural greenway infrastructure can create is 'landscape connectedness.' And connectedness has been the goal of regional planners for at least the past one hundred years."

"But comprehensive land-use planning on more than the most elementary level—mainly zoning in towns and cities-seems to be beyond us," laments Little.

"As I have said, regional greenways networks will not themselves clean up the mess," Little writes. "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." (Little, Greenways for America, John Hopkins, 1990, pp. 135, 136, italics in original)

(3)The bill for the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area focuses on regulation of the landscape. In the "findings," the bill declares, "Congress finds that…portions of the landscapes important to the strategies of the British and Continental armies, including waterways, mountains, farms, wetlands, villages, and roadways…retain the integrity of the period of the American Revolution; an…offer outstanding opportunities for conservation, education, and recreation."

(4) I witnessed the National Park Service and New York Parks and Conservation Consultant tutoring the members of such an infant agency in Schuylerville, N.Y., for the Champlain Canalway Trail, along the northerly branch of the Erie Canal toward Lake Champlain, part of the Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor.

(5) The budget for Erie Canal National Heritage Area was $400,000 for fiscal 2003, NPS submitted $600,000 for fiscal 2004. These appear to be largely administrative and promotional expenses.

(6) "Rivers of Steel national Heritage Area is working to preserve this site's rich industrial heritage and its priceless artifacts for generations to come through the creation of the Homestead Works National Park." - 3/28/04

(7) Example: The Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area in New Jersey is to be buttressed as a greenway with a separately enacted Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route multi-state trail, under study.

(8) Examples: The City of Schenectady, N.Y., threatened condemnation of the property belonging to Janice Revella for cross-state NPS Erie Canalway Trail within the Erie Canal National Heritage Area. The Town of Wawarsing, N.Y. condemned a historic railroad station owned by Herter Diener for the cross-state NPS Delaware and Hudson Canalway Trail within the Delaware and Hudson Heritage Area (not yet a NPS National Heritage Area).

(9) At the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on H.R. 2949 to establish the Augusta Canal National Heritage Corridor on June 28, 2994, Denis P. Galvin, Associate Director, Planning and Development, National Park Service, recommended, that the bill to establish the Heritage Corridor "shall not take effect until the Secretary of the Interior approves the partnership compact for the heritage corridor that is now under development."

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