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June 13, 2021

6/4/2021 2:38:00 PM
National Heritage Area supported by county

Chisago County may soon be listed with a handful of “National Heritage Areas” in the United States.  The County Board May 19 approved a resolution supporting Congress to adopt the application for designating the North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix.  The County letter goes with al sorts of materials and expressions of support to Washington D.C. for presentation to the members.

The Heritage Area boundaries include west Wisconsin and east central MN for a total of 18 counties and 114 zip codes.  

There are 55 U.S. Heritage Areas, the county commissioners were told.

Chair of the organizing group Marty Harding explained the process began in 2008, when the non-profit organization that’s been working bringing people together behind the scenes, started looking into Hertage Areas.  The feasibility study was done in 2014.  An economic impact analysis took place over the last four. months and results were out in early May.  

The National Park Service Office of Heritage Areas confirmed the concept meets all 10 of the criteria required for recognition. The latest economic impact analysis (later in story) also supports the National Heritage Area designation as a tool to create jobs and boost the local economy.  

The office of U.S. Representative for Wisconsin, Ron Kind,  who is carrying the measure in D.C. stated, “...the Congressman is working with stakeholder groups and Members of Congress representing the area to move this bill forward. This new study is welcome news, it’s clear that this designation will only boost the surrounding communities’ economies.”

Harding said there were six Heritage Areas approved just in 2019 through the John Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act of 2019.

The County Board was assured National Heritage Area inclusion has no impact on land uses.

The NHA can not use federal money to acquire land. There is an annual appropriation to NHAs through the federal government that the areas can apply for to use for projects.

Chris Stein, who was St. Croix Scenic Riverway Superintendent at one time, is now the coordinator of the NHAs of the Midwest for the National Park Service. He stated the NorthWoods and Waters of the St. Croix NHA has much to offer. “The infrastructure is already there. This (designation) will market the entire package instead of individual parts.”  

The designation also requires no local financial aid.  Commissioner Mike Robinson voted no, potentially confusing this program with a Scenic Byway establishment years ago that did cost the county money.

Harding described the designation as “like a brand’ that coordinates the region in its efforts to raise awareness and understanding of the NHA for both visitors and residents.  Students with Carlson School of Management here in Minnesota analyzed data from other  National Heritage Areas and predicted economic impacts for the St. Croix NH Area.  Visitor numbers could increase by 10 percent over five years of the area implementation.

In a development related to the region: the St. Croix River Association has a new name. The official nonprofit partner with the National Scenic Riverway is now Wild Rivers Conservancy of the St. Croix and Namekagon.

The Wild Rivers Conservancy new name comes from the evolving and diverse needs of the rivers. The Conservancy is uniquely positioned to inspire stewardship that ensures the Riverway continues to be a place of refuge for all, forever, according to a release from the former Association.

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