National Heritage Areas: Celebrating Our Culture and Landscapes

By Pillifant, Andrew | Parks & Recreation, March 2002 | Go to article overview

National Heritage Areas: Celebrating Our Culture and Landscapes


Pillifant, Andrew, Parks & Recreation


Anyone who has traveled from one coast of the United States to the other will tell you that at some point during the journey, an awareness of the vast and powerful landscape of our country crosses the mind. They will tell you that they never realized, or perhaps never fully imagined, the depth and range within our borders that is responsible for such a unique framework of people, places and possibilities that we call the United States. Traveling across our country is a resonating experience. There is much to explore, and more to understand.

As much as we want to develop the potential of our country, we must also be careful to preserve places and processes from our past, as they hold the lessons for future generations, the values of our culture, and the qualities of our cultural landscapes. They form our history. The establishment of our parks, and the birth of the National Park Service, have allowed a number of our special treasures to receive proper care and maintenance, and showcased, among other things, the benefits of outdoor recreation and appreciation. Setting aside these geological marvels, and outlining their importance to the American identity, serves as a national example for appreciating specific aspects of our culture and spotlighting them for educational, historical and interpretive contemplation. "It also provides an important platform for groups to work together to achieve a large number of goals and purposes," notes Brenda Barrett, National Heritage Areas Coordinator.

Parks and recreation professionals can promote our rich heritage in various ways. One such measure, developing National Heritage Areas, works with the National Park Service to designate locations where "natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine for a cohesive, nationally-distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography." National Heritage Areas can bring our rich, historical resources and traditions to a more visible and conscious position. A collective approach to our national experience emerges and establishes places and perspectives in history that tell the stories of American dreams, ingenuities and commitments.

The diversity among the heritage areas illustrates a key point of American life: different regions tell unique tales about our people and our history. The Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area in northeastern Iowa incorporates over 80 communities, sites and attractions that interpret the impact agriculture and farm life has had on the American economy and national perspective. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission maintains the Path of Progress National Heritage Route and shares the stories of our nation's growth in industry through the Allegany Experience. The Automobile National Heritage Area celebrates and educates visitors regarding the influence the automobile has had, and will continue to have, on transportation and commerce. These are just three examples of the 23 National Heritage Areas that promote, educate and justify the dimensions of our culture and aid in our appreciation of America and its perseverance.

The Power of Agriculture

Throughout most of our history, America has had the fortune of never knowing the impact of food shortages. We have our thriving agriculture to thank for this, and the Silos & Smokestacks region spanning a large portion of northeastern Iowa deserves much of the credit. Tourists visiting this Heritage Area come to learn and understand the importance of this prosperous region: its agricultural foundations, farm life atmosphere, economic development and compelling landscape. Studying the process of agriculture, from the inventions that shaped modern-day production to the values that kept farm owners and workers focused, can all be done here with a number of educational opportunities, site visits and seminars.

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area, formed in 1991 as a nonprofit partnership, is "dedicated to recognizing, preserving, promoting and coordinating northeastern Iowa's contributions to world agriculture. …

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