Big Sky Country National Heritage Area – Boon Or Boondoggle? Part 2

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two part series the effort to have Cascade County designated as a National Heritage Area. Here’s a link to Part 1.


So you may wonder if and where negative impacts have occurred in conjunction with National Heritage Areas. If you ask the National Park Service or BSCNHA Inc, they will tell you there have been no negative impacts or complaints. That’s what was stated at the so-called public meeting I attended but it’s not true. Here are just a few of the examples I’ve found.

“In Wheeling, the legislature designated the downtown area as a National Heritage Area in October 2000 when it passed the Wheeling National Heritage Act (WNHAA). This act created the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation (WNHAC) to manage and redevelop the area. In 2002, The WHNAC proposed to convert 90 percent of downtown Wheeling into a ‘Victorian-themed outlet mall.’ This plan would have condemned properties and transferred them from their present owners to private retail businesses chosen by City officials (Berliner 2003). Fortunately, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled the financing of the plan unconstitutional in May 2003.” Unleashing Capitalism:Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It, Russell S. Sobel, Ph.D. Editor,  Chapter 7, Edward J. López, Carrie B. Kerekes, George D. Johnson.

“When Augusta Canal NHA was undergoing initial approval, the National Park Service urged the House Resources Committee to withhold federal funds from Augusta Canal until a commitment was shown by those overseeing the creation of the NHA to implement stricter zoning laws and even create a state park.” Great National Land Grab, Peyton Knight, 2003

(Former) Deputy director of the National Park Service, Donald Murphy, testified before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks that one of the things the Park Service does when administering National Heritage Areas is survey land that would be suitable for future National Parks or National Park expansions. National Heritage Areas, The Land Grab Continues, Tom DeWeese, October 2012

As a first step, each of the jurisdictions within the Heritage Area that has not already done so will need to recognize the JTHG National Heritage Area and related parks, trails and sites in its comprehensive plan and identify its resources and qualities as a priority for conservation and preservation in the county. The JTHG Partnership will work to ensure that all counties participate in NHA initiatives and recognize the NHA in their plans. Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Management Plan, July 2012

“A few years ago, Lee Ott was driving around his vegetable farm in Yuma, Ariz., when he spotted a crew of surveyors putting stakes in his land. “I stopped and asked them what was going on,” he recalls. It turned out they were marking the boundaries of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. Ott’s farm fell entirely within its 22 square miles, and nobody had bothered to tell him.

“I became worried because I wanted to build a new house and a shop on the farm,” he says. “I didn’t need anybody to give me a bunch of rules about how they should look or whether I could even build them.”

So he decided to fight back. He met with the Yuma County Farm Bureau, which then contacted all of the landowners within the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. “About 600 people came to our meeting,” says Harold Maxwell, a farm-equipment distributor. “When I asked for a show of hands from those who knew they were in the NHA, only one hand went up.”” The Nation, An Ugly Heritage—The Poor Man’s National Park, John J. Miller, January 28, 2008

When the Yuma Crossing Heritage Area was authorized in 2000, the public in Yuma County did not understand the scope of the project and was surprised by the size of the designation. Concerns were raised by citizens about the size of the designation and the potential for additional federal oversight. The fear of adverse impacts on private property rights were realized when local government agencies began to use the immense heritage area boundary to determine zoning restrictions.” Report 109-294 attached to H.R. 326, Representative Richard Pombo, Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Congress.

“National heritage areas are preservation zones where land use and property rights can be restricted. They give the National Park Service and preservation interest groups (many with histories of hostility toward property rights) substantial influence by giving them the authority to create land use “management plans” and then the authority to disburse federal money to local governments to promote their plans.” National Center for Public Policy Research, Coalition Letter Detailing Risks of National Heritage Area Designation,” September 4, 2007,



Despite language in an NHA designation supposedly designed to protect private property rights, local government officials are pressured by the NHA management group to pass zoning laws and regulations not otherwise needed in order to support the NHA management plan. Private property owners can lose the right to use and enjoy their properties as they see fit.


Private land is included within the NHA boundaries without the owner’s consent. No notification is given to landowners of NHA management actions. 


A private group or organization will manage the NHA. They not accountable to the public for their management actions. They are not elected and therefore, if you don’t like what they do, you can’t vote them out.


The National Park Service oversight for the NHA adds another layer of government bureaucracy. 


Local, state and federal regulations and programs and private nonprofits already exist to promote the economy and preserve the history and heritage of Central Montana. NHA designation duplicates those efforts.


None of the National Heritage Areas in existence have become self-sufficient and are chronically dependent upon additional federal funding at taxpayer expense.


National Heritage Areas funnel resources away from the National Park Service’s main mission of taking care of already existing national parks. NPS money is better spend toward backlogs of over $131 million and $585 million in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks respectively.


The initial push for a NHA is fueled by the desires of a special interest group or groups or a federal agency. It is sold as a community benefit to facilitate “economic development” but the NHA’s “economic development” is promoting businesses that fit their management plan.

Write, call or email Montana’s Congressional Delegation, as the NHA designation would require their action. Tell them—no National Heritage Area!

Capitol Switchboard : (202) 224-3121

Senator Steve Daines
320 Hart Senate Office Bldg
Washington DC 20510
202- 224-2651

Senator Jon Tester
311 Hart Senate Office Bldg
Washington DC 20510

Rep, Greg Gianforte
1222 Longworth HOB
Washington DC 20515
(202) 225-3211

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Jeni Dodd
Jeni Dodd
Jeni Dodd is a creative, multi-faceted, multi-talented, knowledge junkie. She currently utilizes her skills in a variety of business and artistic endeavors. Liberty, integrity, truth and critical thinking are among her most important precepts.


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