U.S. Rep. John Rutherford and Kathy Fleming, executive director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, recently testified before a House subcommittee in support of the Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act, which was reintroduced by Rutherford earlier this year.
They spoke at a meeting of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.
The legislation would designate portions of Nassau, Duval, St. Johns and Flagler counties as a National Heritage Area (NHA). NHAs, which are designated by Congress and protected by the National Park Service, recognize important natural, cultural and historic landscapes and help celebrate the nation’s diverse heritage.
“I am optimistic the committee will soon take a vote on HR 2107 and send it to the House floor for final consideration,” said Rutherford. “Thank you to Kathy Fleming and the entire team at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, who have been working tirelessly for years to establish a National Heritage Area on the First Coast.”
“The Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act would protect a nationally significant and special place in the American landscape,” said Fleming. “It is special not only for its great diversity of peoples sustained by connection to the land and to the sea, but also for its unique ability to last as a community for centuries despite many obstacles. Like America itself, our Northeast Florida community is stronger because of our diversity. We are deeply grateful to representatives Rutherford, Lawson and Waltz for introducing this bill. Their support will allow us to tell the whole story of the beginning of our nation and how we have persevered and prospered together.”
The Nation’s Oldest Port region of Northeast Florida has been home to a mosaic of cultures and maritime heritage, including indigenous Floridians, African slaves and European and American explorers and settlers.
Through public-private partnerships, NHAs provide federal support for historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation and heritage tourism.
They also provide significant positive impact on the local economies in which they reside. A 2012 study by the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the National Park Service showed NHAs contribute nearly $13 billion annually to the national economy and support 148,000 jobs.
There are 55 designated National Heritage Areas in 34 states across the country that support a diversity of conservation, recreation, education and preservation activities.
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