Informational meetings on proposed national heritage area planned for next week

The community effort to secure a national heritage area designation for northcentral Montana is ramping up and two community meetings are planned for the end of the month.

NHA’s require Congressional approval but do not hinder local property ownership. The process requires feasibility studies and the meetings will include discussion on the proposed boundaries, its purpose and the status of the local feasibility study.

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The feasibility study is at roughly the halfway point, and supporters say reactions to the idea have been encouraging.

The first meeting is Jan. 30, at the Black Eagle Community Center; and a second meeting will take place Jan. 31, at the Montana Agricultural Center in Fort Benton. Both meetings are scheduled to run from 6-8 p.m. and include light refreshments.

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The public is encouraged to attend, ask questions and offer comments. Supporters say the honorary heritage area designation can increase visitors to the area, encourage investment in the region, attract , attract grants to support historical and cultural projects, encourage cooperation among disparate groups and foster pride in communities and regions.

“We could be the first (heritage area) in Montana, which is very exciting,” said Mary Willmarth of Great Falls, a backer of the plan. “We haven’t had this opportunity before. “Our story is so deserving of national attention.”

The country’s nearly 50 heritage areas have been highly successful in boosting tourism, attracting economic development and helping area communities work more closely together, Willmarth said. She is a member of the board of directors of the Upper Missouri River Heritage Area Planning Corp.

National Heritage Area project gaining momentum in Great Falls region

Jane Weber, a Cascade County commissioner and chairman of the group’s board of directors said, “we look forward to sharing our progress and hope to see a great turnout at both meetings.”

A heritage area could also help communities such as Great Falls, Fort Benton and Cascade work more closely together on projects of historic and cultural importance.

Two consultants who play a key role in preparing the feasibility study are August Carlino of Pittsburgh, Pa., who oversees the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, and Nancy Morgan, who once directed the Cane River National Heritage Area in Natchitoches, La. Heritage areas must be formally approved by the U.S. Congress before taking effect.

The heritage area group in northcentral Montana has already begun working with other organizations to assist them with projects demonstrating the area’s varied culture and rich history. Tourism is the second-largest industry in the region, behind only agriculture, and backers say a heritage area label could help boost the number of visitors as well as give newcomers a more complete and satisfying view of an area.

This plan is poised to become the first heritage area in Montana, if approved.

What:

Public gatherings to discuss the heritage area designation effort in central Montana

When and where:

Jan. 30 at the Black Eagle Community Center from 6 to 8 p.m.; free admission, light refreshments

Jan. 31 at the Montana Agricultural Center in Fort Benton from 6 to 8 p.m.; free admission, light refreshments

Purpose:

To discuss progress on the feasibility study for National Heritage Area designation and share ideas on the region’s future.

For more information:

Call Jane Weber at 406-454-6814 or email her at jweber@cascadecountymt.gov

Or visit the website of the Upper Missouri River Heritage Area Planning Corp. at: www.uppermissouririverheritage.org