Community meetings set for discussion on proposed national heritage area

A series of community conversations is scheduled for the Upper Missouri River region May 1-3 to discuss a plan aimed at driving tourism, boosting agriculture and the local economy, and recognizing the region’s national historical significance.

The Upper Missouri River Heritage Area Planning Corporation will host three evening gatherings — in Helena on May 1; Fort Benton on May 2; and Great Falls on May 3 — to kick off planning required to complete a feasibility study for the creation of a National Heritage Area. Each meeting will begin with social time and refreshments at 5:30 p.m. followed by the public discussions from 6-8 p.m.

National Heritage Area project gaining momentum in Great Falls region

“We live in a region of the country where incredible history occurred and where our heritage is so important to the story of America,” said the group’s chair Jane Weber, in a release. “These community conversations are part of a series of events that have been going on for several years to celebrate the Upper Missouri River, our people, our work and our lifestyles. We invite Montanans to attend and tell us what is important to them and their communities.”

The feasibility study is funded by regional supporters. The purpose of the study is to gather information needed to have parts of the Upper Missouri area in Montana designated by Congress as a National Heritage Area. National Heritage Areas are places designated by the U.S. Congress where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally significant landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography.

“It’s a place where people and the land have shaped history, and a National Heritage Area designation will help us maintain the lifestyles that are familiar to the Upper Missouri River region,” Weber said.

Unlike other National Park Service designations, National Heritage Areas are not operated by the federal government. A local partnership of community groups, businesses, educational institutions, landowners and other interested parties come together to develop a strategy that promotes the region’s heritage and culture, and to prioritize projects and programs that help maintain cultural and working traditions, interpret history and promote the National Heritage Area for business and tourism investment.

There are 49 National Heritage Areas in the United States, none of which are in Montana. They were first created by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s as a way to provide a non-federal mechanism for recognizing and supporting the nation’s history. The feasibility study is an intensive undertaking that examines a number of factors, including significance of resources, historic themes that tell a nationally significant story, and the demonstration of partnerships among private and public entities at local and regional levels to work together to manage the National Heritage Area.

The Upper Missouri River Heritage Area Planning Corporation will lead the community conversations with its consulting team headed by Nancy Morgan of Point Heritage Development Consulting, from Tallahassee, Fla. Also assisting will be August Carlino from Pittsburgh, Pa.

“Nancy and Augie are experts in the National Heritage Area field,” said Weber, a Cascade County commissioner. “Augie is the president and chief executive officer of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, one of the most successful National Heritage Areas, and Nancy once directed the Cane River National Heritage Area in Natchitoches, La. They have also worked together in other regions of the country helping communities with heritage designations, economic and tourism development, and other projects.”

The community conversations will be held in the following locations beginning at 5:30 p.m. with social time/refreshments followed by the public discussions from 6 to 8 p.m.:

  • Helena, May 1 – Montana Historical Society auditorium, 225 North Roberts Street
  • Fort Benton, May 2 –  Montana Agricultural Center, 1205 20th Street
  • Great Falls, May 3 – Civic Center, Missouri Room, 2 Park Drive South

For more information, contact Jane Weber at 406-454-6814 or go to www.uppermissouririverheritage.org.