On Tuesday, July 18th, the National Park Service delivered the Finger Lakes National Heritage Area Feasibility Study to Congress. The feasibility study determined that the study area in the Finger Lakes region of New York state meets the criteria to be eligible for inclusion as part of the National Heritage Area System.
The study evaluated the 14-county area (Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne, and Yates) according to congressionally established criteria and the National Heritage Area Feasibility Study Guidelines.
These include: themes of national significance represented by natural, cultural, and historic resources; ongoing customs and traditions related to the area’s distinctive landscape and its peoples; the potential for future conservation, educational and recreational opportunities; resources related to the identified themes that retain a level of integrity that supports interpretation; local support for a potential NHA designation and its boundary; and the identification of a potential local coordinating entity.
The team consulted subject-matter experts, state and local governments, sovereign Native Nations, non-governmental organizations, businesses and the public during the study process.
There are currently 55 National Heritage Areas throughout the United States. If approved, the Finger Lakes would be the fifth National Heritage Area in New York State.
The Finger Lakes are a chain of narrow lakes found in central New York state, roughly stretching from Syracuse to Rochester. They were once north-to-south flowing rivers, which were dammed by glaciers as they retreated during the last Ice Age.
The study found a wide range of resources connected to the Finger Lakes geography and identity. Together, these create a distinctive landscape with unique physical, historic and cultural connections. The many sites, municipalities and organizations within the study area represent a nationally important area.
This area could form a viable national heritage area and support efficient management of the sites, through collaboration among active partners. The study found that Central New York’s landscape is nationally important for its association with the distinct geological formations of the Finger Lakes. This landscape served as home to North American democracy via the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, as the breadbasket of the Northeast and as the playground for generations of Americans and international visitors.
Through federal legislation, Congress designates NHAs as places where natural, cultural and historical resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important stories. A feasibility study serves as the reference source for those interested in the potential creation of an area in the National Heritage Area System but is not, itself, a decision document.
Through public-private partnerships, NHAs tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage. Unlike national parks, NHAs are not federally owned property, but cover lived-in communities. NHAs may include parks or other federally owned property.
A local organization manages the NHA in partnership with individual citizens; local, state, federal and sovereign Native Nations’ governments; and nonprofit and business sector groups. Together, these partners preserve the integrity of the area’s distinctive landscape and nationally important stories so that current and future generations can understand this relationship to the land.
Since NHAs are not federally owned, the federal government does not acquire land, manage land or change land use controls through their creation. The NPS can and does provide technical, planning and financial assistance to NHAs. Decisions, however, are made by the local NHA authority.
The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act authorized the study. The study’s materials are available online at here.
For more information on National Heritage Areas, visit the National Park Service Heritage Areas website.
Illustrations, from above: The National Park Service logo; a map of Finger Lakes National Heritage Area study area; and a satellite view of a late fall snowstorm frosted the hills of the Finger Lakes region of central New York in early December 2004.