FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - The two senior members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation are teaming up to advocate for progress in eastern and southern Kentucky to deem it a National Heritage Area.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, and Fifth District Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, filed companion bills on Thursday in the Senate and House, respectively, to begin the federal process to designate Southern and Eastern Kentucky as the Kentucky Wildlands National Heritage Area.
This follows Eastern Kentucky PRIDE's grant award from the Appalachian Regional Commission earlier this year to brand the region, explored by Daniel Boone, as the Kentucky Wildlands. The Kentucky Wildlands National Heritage Area Study Act directs the Secretary of the Interior to complete a study to determine whether the region meets the requirements for a National Heritage Area designation.
“Kentucky's Appalachian region is richly blessed with a thriving wilderness that first captivated one of the nation's most prominent frontiersmen, Daniel Boone, Rogers said. “This new designation could open the door for new tourism opportunities and additional funding to help preserve and promote our historic rugged hillsides, lakes and streams.”
The work over the last 20 years of PRIDE volunteers has made the area more welcoming for visitors and tourism opportunities in the mountains, Rogers said.
As a National Heritage Area, the region would receive technical assistance and federal funding through a partnership with the National Park Service.
“The scenic beauty of Kentucky’s wilderness is a link to our Commonwealth’s rich heritage and a key to our bright future,” McConnell said. “Preserving the traditions of communities throughout this region as our state’s first National Heritage Area can bring both tourism and economic opportunity. I’m grateful to all those in Kentucky who are taking part in this important effort to promote Appalachia’s unique culture.”
The designation of National Heritage Areas has proven to have an incredible economic impact directly related to tourism, said Tammie Nazzario, president/CEO of Eastern Kentucky PRIDE.
"The National Coal Heritage area in West Virginia, for example, generated $207 million in economic impact, supported 2,744 jobs and $16.8 million in tax revenue in 2016. This designation would greatly enhance the efforts of PRIDE's current tourism marketing initiative of rebranding Southern and Eastern Kentucky as The Kentucky Wildlands."
Since 1984, 55 National Heritage Area designations have been made across the United States. The designation recognizes places where natural, cultural and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.