Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced a bill to designate Washington state’s Mountains to Sound Greenway—1.5 million acres of land stretching along the Interstate 90 corridor from Seattle to Ellensburg—as a National Heritage Area to help preserve and promote its scenery, resources and history for future generations. U.S. Representatives Dave Reichert (R-Wash.-08) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.-09) are introducing similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Act would recognize a scenic byway and historic transportation corridor through 2,400 square miles that includes the Cascade peaks, wilderness lakes and forests, as well as a network of roads, rails and trails. It includes farms and forests, historic sites, lakes, campgrounds, rivers and wildlife habitat. The area is home to 1.4 million residents in 28 cities and 1,600 miles of trails.
The Mountains to Sound National Heritage Area could become the first such designation in the Pacific Northwest. Congress has designated 49 National Heritage Areas nationwide to promote local economic growth and tourism, and to preserve sites and landmarks with cultural and historical significance.
“The recreation economy is one of the largest job creators. Protecting special places like the Mountains to Sound Greenway would help boost tourism to some of Washington state’s most scenic and historic landscapes," Sen. Cantwell said. “I am proud to work with Sen. Murray, Reps. Reichert and Smith, and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to establish this National Heritage Area and build on nearly two decades of efforts to preserve our state’s natural landscape for future generations.”
“No matter what the political climate, it’s so important we continue to push to preserve our most precious natural spaces – and I’m proud to continue this fight to protect the Mountains to Sound Greenway," Sen. Murray said. “Outdoor recreation is a key part of Washington state’s economy, and this designation will draw even more tourists to appreciate our unique natural resources, and support local economic development from Ellensburg to Seattle and every community in between.”
“Washington’s natural beauty attracts visitors from across the country and globe who want to experience our mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests,” Rep. Reichert said. “Living with these natural treasures in our backyard has not only taught us the importance of conservation, but have shown us being stewards of the land can also grow our local economy. With an already strong outdoor recreation and tourism industry, protecting the Mountains to Sound Greenway promises to create more jobs in our region, while preserving these valuable sites and landmarks for future generations to enjoy. I have been proud to work with a bipartisan group of Washington colleagues in both the Senate and the House on this initiative that benefits constituents across district and party lines.”
“The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area designation is critical to achieving a sustainable relationship between Washington state residents and nature in the Puget Sound Region," Rep. Adam Smith said. “The diverse coalition of organizations, local Tribes, community members, as well as bicameral and bipartisan Congressional leaders supporting this effort, speaks to the value our community places on protecting our environment for generations to come.”
National Heritage Areas are Congressional-designated partnerships between the National Park Service, states and local communities through which the Park Service supports local and state efforts to preserve natural resources and promote tourism. National Heritage Areas are not part of the National Park System. No federal regulations are imposed, and no private land is affected or acquired.
Since 1991, the nonprofit Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust has worked to preserve the area’s scenic landscapes for recreation, education and conservation. More than 900,000 acres of land now are publicly-owned, including parks and forests such as Tiger Mountain, Snoqualmie Pass and Mount Si.
Heritage Area designations are eligible for federal grants and can help draw financial contributions from state, local and private sources. A recent economic impact study indicates National Heritage Areas contribute $12.9 billion annually to the national economy and support 148,000 jobs, according to the Park Service. On average, Heritage Areas generate about $263 million in economic activity and support about 3,000 jobs, primarily through tourism and visitor spending.
Other National Heritage Areas nationwide include: the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area in Springfield, Illinois; the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and the Baltimore National Heritage Area in Baltimore, Maryland.
Heritage Area designations also help coordinate marketing and tourism promotion, such as developing websites, putting up highway signs to advertise sites, sponsoring festivals, and publishing brochures and tour maps. Heritage Areas also can help with assisting in the operation of museums and visitor centers.
Earlier this month, Sens. Cantwell and Murray introduced S. 627, the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area Act, which would establish a National Heritage Area covering most of Western Washington’s saltwater shoreline. It would help promote maritime-related tourism, economic development and maritime history as told through Washington state’s museums, historic ships, fishing culture and other activities. Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.-06) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.-10) sponsored a companion bill to that legislation in the House, H.R. 1518.