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National Heritage Areas

National Heritage Areas seek to preserve and celebrate America’s defining landscapes and diverse cultural traditions while stimulating economic growth.  The National Heritage Area concept is popular because it provides a framework for voluntary heritage preservation, education, and promotion through local decision-making, with residents of the region setting the agenda for implementing it themselves.

The National Park Service describes a National Heritage Area as a place “where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form cohesive, nationally distinctive landscapes arising from patterns of past and present human activities shaped by geography." With its combination of cultures, history, languages, traditions, and landscapes, the Santa Cruz Valley is just that!


National Heritage Areas are different 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 uniquely qualified to preserve its resources.

There are currently 49 designated National Heritage Areas across the country, with only a few of those being in the West.  

Benefits of being designated a National Heritage Area include both economic and non-economic benefits.  The proposed Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area will provide a framework for heritage-based economic development, including tourism-related increases in local jobs, business incomes, and tax revenues. There is a growing interest in the National Heritage Areas because of its proven success as a regional economic development strategy.

The non-economic benefits of the proposed Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area include the promotion of local foods, crafts, and other traditional products.  The National Heritage Area designation also supports an improved quality of life for residents through preservation of the places, landscapes, and traditions that make this region unique.


Visit the National Heritage Areas Program through the National Park Service to learn more.