Q: What is a National Heritage Area?

A: A National Heritage Area is a place designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. In other words, it is a place where the history, scenery or culture is so significant that it deserves national recognition.


Q: How are private property rights affected by National Heritage Areas?

A: The short answer is that they are not affected. The legislation contains absolute protection for property owners, forbids the use of Heritage Area funds for land to acquire real property, and nothing in the legislation confers any zoning or regulatory authority to the heritage area. Also, nothing in the legislation requires property owners to allow public access or creates any liability to a private property owner with respect to any person injured on the private property. And, no one is required to participate in the area or any heritage area programs.


Q: Is this the first step towards creating a national park in the area?

A: No. Heritage Areas are an alternative to national parks, where federal funds can be used to support historic sites, events and projects without impacting the normal life of the community.


Q: Will it affect my rights in the future, like the right to pass my land down to my children?

A: Absolutely not.


Q: So, if it can't regulate anybody and it isn't going to be a national park, what can it do?

A: It authorizes up to $10 million over 15 years in federal matching funds for heritage tourism projects in the area as recommended by local people. It could mean grants to Fort Lincoln, Fort Mandan, Buckstop Junction or private individuals. It could mean support for events like the United Tribes Pow-Wow. It could provide incentives for a private landowner to preserve forest or wildlife habitat. It could help local units of government protect historic sites from erosion.


Q: Who makes the decisions on how to invest the federal matching money?

A: A management plan based on public input and involvement will direct the decision making made by the nonprofit organization named by Congress as the "local coordinating entity." That entity is the Northern Plains Heritage Foundation (NPHF).


Q: OK, so the heritage area has no zoning or regulatory authority, but could federal funds be used to lobby for zoning of scenic viewsheds?

A: Three things: 1) Federal funds can't be used to lobby at any level; 2) No matter who advocates for what, zoning decisions are always made by local officials; and 3) The board of directors of the Northern Plains Heritage Foundation has expressed no interest in being involved in local zoning issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Developing the Northern Plains National Heritage Area

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