The region could join 49 others nationwide to receive funds and technical support
A Democrat and a Republican agree on this: Make the Finger Lakes region a National Heritage Area.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, stood together at the Lakeside Park and Pavilion on Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen to announce a united front for the Finger Lakes.
If designated as a National Heritage Area, the region would join 49 others nationwide that enjoy a partnership with the National Park Service to receive technical help and matching federal funds. The National Park Service does not take ownership of the heritage areas or impose land-use controls, but the designation promotes and supports these areas to help them thrive.
“Designating the region as a National Heritage Area would help boost local tourism and conserve and protect the region’s natural, historic and cultural resources,” said Gillibrand, who introduced legislation that would authorize the National Parks Service to take the first step toward the region obtaining the designation. “Thousands of tourists come from around the world to visit the Finger Lakes region to experience the beautiful landscape, rich history and culture, and enjoy all that our local businesses have to offer.”
National Heritage Areas include the Erie Canalway across New York; Path of Progress National Heritage Route in Pennsylvania; and the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area in New Mexico.
Tourism in the Finger Lakes region’s 14 counties in 2015 was a $2.9 billion business that employs 59,293 people, according to the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance. The region has more than 400 registered historic sites and landmarks, 135 museums, 80 art galleries, 14 professional theater companies, 100 wineries, 300 bed and breakfast facilities, and 650 miles of shoreline.
“Protecting our natural resources for generations to come is an important initiative of mine,” said Reed. “I appreciate conserving the natural beauty of what’s right here in our backyard. Finding a commonsense approach to preserving our heritage and growing our local economy is vital and the Finger Lakes region should be designated as a National Heritage Area.”
The first step toward designating the region as a National Heritage Area would be a feasibility study in the 14 counties: Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne and Yates counties.
Success rides on “incorporating community input,” according to the lawmakers. These areas “turn every $1 of federal investment into $5.50 for jobs and government revenue that helps boosts local tourism while protecting the region’s precious natural, historic and cultural resources,” they said.
Gillibrand and Reed explained the NHAs as a “grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development. Through public-private partnerships, NHA entities support historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects.”
On Tuesday, Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park executive director Dave Hutchings heard about the move to designate the region and applauded the idea. Hutchings said he just completed a $50,000 grand proposal for state funds to help further market Sonnenberg and other attractions in the region. Sonnenberg in Canandaigua is part of a package of attractions that give patrons a chance to buy combination admissions to Sonnenberg, George Eastman Museum, Artisan Works, Lazy Acres Alpacas, Genesee Country Village and Museum, and Seward House Museum.
Becoming a National Heritage Area “would be one more step in the right direction to be stronger together,” he said.