The designation would give the Finger Lakes a platform in seeking funding and support

PENN YAN — It’s been almost three years since U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand stood in Red Jacket Park in Penn Yan and announced an effort to have the Finger Lakes region designated as a National Heritage Area (NHA).

This week, her office announced that the legislation has passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“This will be a big deal for the area,” says Cynthia Kimble, president of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, who attended the March 12 Yates County Legislature meeting to contribute detail for a report on the county’s Tourism Advisory Committee.

Gillibrand’s legislation would authorize the National Park Service to take the first step toward designating the region as a National Heritage Area by conducting a feasibility study in the 14-county Finger Lakes region, which includes Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne and Yates counties. 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.

Gillibrand has been pushing for the Finger Lakes region to become a National Heritage Area since 2015, when she visited Penn Yan to make the announcement. The legislation was reported favorably by the committee by voice vote and will now move to the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate before going to the House of Representatives, and then finally to the executive office for the President’s signature.

But reaching that point could still take some time, cautions Kimble, explaining that President Donald Trump has slashed all funding for National Heritage Areas, including those that are already established.

“The Finger Lakes Region is a national treasure that should be designated as a National Heritage Area,” stated Gillibrand. “Thousands of tourists come from around the world to visit the Finger Lakes Region to experience the beautiful landscape, the rich history and culture, and to enjoy all that our local businesses have to offer. Designating the region as a National Heritage Area would help boost local tourism while conserving and protecting the region’s previous natural, historic, and cultural resources. I’m pleased this legislation is now one step closer to becoming law.”

According to the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance’s data from 2016, tourism in the region’s 14 counties is a $3 billion business that employs 59,326 people. The Finger Lakes region is home to 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.

A National Heritage Area designation would help give the Finger Lakes region the platform it needs to leverage funds and secure long-term, sustainable support for heritage conservation and economic development. By incorporating community input, NHAs turn every $1 of federal investment into $5.50 for jobs and government revenue that helps boost local tourism while protecting the region’s precious natural, historic, and cultural resources, according to Gillibrand’s office.

NHAs are 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. The NHA program currently includes 49 heritage areas across the country, including the Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, and Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership in New York, and is administered by the National Parks Service.