National Heritage Areas — Congressional Testimony — LaGrasse

Before the U. S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Good afternoon. Thank you for the honor of testifying today. My name is Carol LaGrasse, President, Property Rights Foundation of America, based in Stony Creek, New York. I am a retired civil and environmental engineer.

My criticism has been and remains that the National Heritage Area program is meant to gradually accomplish federal land use control. It is focused across especially the East and Midwest. The Heritage Area program also involves 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 state, federal, and regional Heritage Areas under development. The House Natural Resources Committee mapped that list, showing the shocking extent to the program already at that time. Direct national land use control is too unpopular to be enacted, as would be a unified national greenway program encompassing the full extent of the Heritage Areas and other federal areas being individually enacted.

In the New Jersey, there are eight federal areas under the Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service covering almost half the state. Now in the Congress at 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 Heritage Areas are tourism, economic development, historic preservation, and protection of riverways. The word “greenway” is not used. Yet, 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

A theme trail is associated with each greenway. The Heritage Area elements fulfill the goal of “landscape connectedness,” a textbook purpose of greenways. A greenway needs an “ensemblage” of sites related to the theme, the ostensible reason for the overall geographic definition, without which the real goal of landscape preservation could not be accomplished.3

In each Heritage Area, multiple programs called partnerships in concert with other agencies at state, federal, regional, local, and especially multi-jurisdictional levels, along with various not-profits, focus on site development, land use planning, land acquisition, and trail development. The auspices of the Park Service are 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. Local government is subverted and co-opted, becoming a tool of the skilled Park Service, non-profit, and consultant manipulators. At each Heritage Area, at least one not-profit agency 4 is created under the tutelage of the Park Service to perhaps be the “management entity” and focus the accomplishment of the greenway or to develop its related trail while directing attention away from the Park Service. New non-profits are instigated for various trails and other purposes, quite surreptitiously. These and consultants are outside of freedom of information law.

Initial studies are geared to landscape preservation, often under the rubric of historical preservation. Lavish funds are provided for outreach to popularize the Heritage Areas. One Heritage Area meeting with about thirty people present, which I attended recently, was hosted by seven Park Service personnel and consultants. 5

Sites are developed for tourism and historical preservation. Congress may prohibit funding under the Heritage Area law from being used for land acquisition, but this is immaterial, because the Park Service has built relationships with multiple federal and state agencies for this.

A Heritage Area can put a new National Park on the agenda. One is the proposed Homestead Works National Park advocated by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.6

Trails, which are a serious threat to private property today, are an important facet of Heritage Areas, for connectivity. 7 They are developed in segments, according to the textbook design for success. Eminent domain may not be directly exercised by the Park Service, but is threatened or exercised by the localities for the segments of a trail, each often separated from another segment so that the common threat is unrecognized. 8

An irony of trails being advocated by environmentalists in species-rich riparian areas is that they serve as an avenue for invasives such as cowbirds that replace eggs of neotropical migrant songbirds and weeds that replace native plants.

Mature planning studies are instigated, in connection with funding for site improvements and in connection with the management plan. 9 These facilitate strict land use controls, an issue left hanging by the GAO report released today. 10

Prohibiting the National Park Service from imposing zoning is irrelevant because the Park Service does not do this directly, but rather instigates the imposition of land use controls. 11

Legislation of an opt-in provision with notification is feasible to protect property owners, considering that tax notices are routinely sent to all owners. But with both this provision and the old opt-out rule, the boundary of the Heritage Area would still exist. The land would be located in the greenway and bear the brunt of the landscape preservation, trail development, and economic design to eliminate non-compatible uses and gear the area toward tourism and nature. Land prices and the tax burden gradually increase.

Ordinary people cannot survive there.

Congress should enact changes geared to eliminate the greenway potential of the Heritage program.

Eliminate geographic delineation. The Heritage program could be directed to block grants of moneys allocated state-by-state through an agency that is not geared to landscape preservation, such as Housing and Urban Development.

Prohibit all the partnerships. Prohibit the Park Service from promotional work for its policies at the local level, and from studies of historical or regional areas. Prohibit the Park Service from working with non-profit agencies.

Park Service personnel should be prohibited from participating in the studies and development of trails, or developing support organizations. All trails should be publicly laid out in their full length, width and other ramifications from the proposal stage, and all property owners notified. Trail development could be administered by the Department of Transportation and the eminent domain protections under the federal highway laws applied.

No additional Heritage Areas should be established and no further development of trails 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 and trails, is completed.

The National Heritage Area program is not just pork-barrel. It certainly is not economic development. It is federal land use control, 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; and…offer outstanding opportunities for conservation, education, and recreation.”

4. I witnessed the National Park Service and New York Parks and Conservation Association 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. 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. 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. The official management plan for the Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor declares: Regional Commissions: “At some point, a sufficient level of concern is reached along with a growing consensus that voluntary, non-regulatory measures are themselves insufficient to ensure that environmental, cultural and historic resources are adequately protected against indiscriminate and inappropriate development. One response has been to draft an intergovernmental cooperative agreement outlining responsibilities of each party to guarantee consistency and coordination in future actions taken by participating municipal governments, and state and federal agencies.” (Land Use Management Plan for the Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor, Center for Rural Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, October 1989, p. 56, emphasis added)

10. United States General Accounting office, “Testimony Before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate – National Park Service – A More Systematic Process for Establishing National Heritage Areas and Actions to Improve Their Accountability Are Needed,” Statement of Barry T. Hill, Director, Natural Resources and Environment.

The report declares, “Despite concerns about private property rights, officials at the 24 heritage areas, Park Service headquarters and regional staff working with these areas, and representatives of six national property rights groups that we contacted were unable to provide us with a single example of a heritage area directly affecting – positively or negatively – private property values or use.” (p. 15, emphasis added)

As reported, the GAO confined its research to narrow interviews. The researchers failed to track down zoning enactments as a result of cooperative agreements, management plans, or partnerships; zoning and building permit applications, disputes, and litigation; trail disputes and condemnations; or shifts in land ownership.

This writer was one of those interviewed. Even after this interviewee explained that zoning and other impositions would have to be tracked down through local agencies, the interviewers aggressively asserted that they sought expressly information about direct infringements on private property rights [by heritage area commissions and heritage area law].

11. At the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on H.R. 2949 to establish the Augusta Canal National Heritage Corridor on June 28, 1994, 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.” He said that the bill should be amended to require “evidence of a commitment to modify zoning regulations…and evidence of commitment to create a State park.”