Monday, October 29, 2007

Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area bill passes House

[Source: Representative Raúl M. Grijalva; C.J. Karamargin] -- Legislation introduced earlier this year by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, to establish the Santa Cruz Valley as a National Heritage Area, has passed the U.S. House of Representatives today. The legislation passed by a vote of 291-122. Part of a package of amendments to the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Act, the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area Act will help preserve and promote the cultural and natural resources in the Santa Cruz Valley.

National Heritage Areas differ from National Parks and other types of Federal designations because they do not impose Federal zoning or regulations on land use, and do not involve land acquisitions. Because a National Heritage Area is locally initiated and managed, it is a community-based conservation strategy that recognizes that the people who live in a heritage area are qualified to preserve its resources.

"I am proud to have brought this bill from the Santa Cruz Valley to the floor of the House of Representatives," said Rep. Grijalva. "I want to thank all the stakeholders who came together to help protect this area. Heritage areas connect people to the cultural, historic, and natural treasures of an area, and this legislation will maintain the Santa Cruz Valley through education, preservation and promotion of its unique resources."

National Heritage Area designation provides federal recognition and financial support. Through annual Congressional appropriations administered by local National Park unit partners, up to $10 million in 50-percent match funding is available to each National Heritage Area over a period of 15 years. This "seed money" can help cover basic expenses such as staffing, and leverages other money from state, local, and private sources to implement locally selected projects. This initial investment ensures that these areas get a solid start toward financial and operational independence.

"Congress can either provide the program, tools and support it needs to continue maturing into a successful preservation model or we can turn our backs on heritage areas and leave local communities to fend for themselves," said Grijalva. "Ever since Congress established heritage areas over twenty years ago, heritage tourism has been growing. Today, it has become a significant economic engine. These areas are worthwhile not only as a way to help local economies, but as a crucial tool in preserving our communities' links to their past."

The Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area would encompass roughly 3,300 square miles in southern Arizona, bordering Mexico. The Santa Cruz Valley contains cactus-covered slopes, open grasslands, rugged canyons, forested mountain ranges, and rare desert streams. It also is home to Spanish missions, fortresses, ghost towns, and old mines. Traces of human habitation in the valley stretch back more than 12,000 years.

"This designation helps our community create a future that honors the cultural traditions, historic places and natural treasures that are so important to us all," said Vanessa Bechtol, programs manager for Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance, a non-profit group advocating creation of the heritage area. "We applaud Congresswoman Giffords and Congressman Grijalva for introducing legislation that celebrates and promotes our rich heritage."

[To view video of Congresswoman Giffords' floor statement supporting this bill, click here and go to the video library on the Press Center page of her website. To view the full text of the legislation creating the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area, click here. Photo source: Jonathan Mabry.]