After more than 6 long years in legislative limbo, a bill designating the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area finally passed the US Senate last week. The US House approved a similar measure in July and President Bush is expected to sign it into law.
"National Heritage Areas are places where common threads - historical, cultural, environmental - create a distinct region. The United States has 27 such regions, including the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor in eastern Connecticut.
The Upper Housatonic region stretches from Lanesborough, Mass., south to Kent, and includes nine towns in Connecticut's northwest corner. The region was the nation's first iron center during the Revolutionary War and has several old iron furnaces still standing. Southwestern Massachusetts had some of the young country's first paper mills."
The recognition is more symbolic than monetary. The bill authorizes the federal government to supply up to $1 million per year for 10 years in matching grants to the region, mostly in educational and promotional materials. Other federal programs in the region have seen their funding come in well below what enabling legislation allows. The four state Highlands Conservation Act is a case in point. It provides for $10 million in conservation funds in each of its 1st ten years, but to date nothing has been appropriated and the latest federal budget proposal would release just $1 million, split four ways.
Nonetheless, a significant portion of the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills fall under this National Heritage Area and it received bi-partisan support from the congressional delegations of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Many local supporters of this designation, especially its sponsors at Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Corridor, Inc., are to be commended for their hard work to achieve federal recognition of the historic, cultural and ecological value of our landscape.