WASHINGTON—A significant step forward in maintaining federal funding for the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA) and the other national heritage areas occurred last week.
The amended version of a bill called the National Heritage Area Act advanced out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday, May 3, with bipartisan support.
The measure would extend all 55 heritage areas throughout the country to 2037. It is sponsored by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
When the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006, the designation was set to sunset after 15 years.
As of 2020, 45 heritage areas around the country, including the MPNHA, were facing sunsets and a cutoff of federal funds within two years. At that point, it appeared the Stabenow-Blunt bill was unlikely to move forward.
So in 2021, Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. Chris Stewart, joined by members of Congress from Nevada, sponsored legislation in both the House and Senate to renewing the federal funding for MPNHA and the Great Basin National Heritage Area in eastern Nevada.
As various proposals waited for congressional action, Congress authorized a extension of funding for all 55 national heritage areas through 2023, explained Monte Bona, director of MPNHA.
Since then, the Stebenow-Blunt bill, the measure that received support from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has gained traction. However, both houses of Congress must approve heritage area legislation before a measure can go to the president to be signed into law.
“The Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA) applauds the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, (and) in particular, Chairman [Joe] Manchin and Ranking Member John Barrasso, for giving a stamp of approval to the National Heritage Area Act,” said Sara Capen, chair of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA.)
“This legislation will ensure that our members can continue to do what they do best—explore and celebrate the people and places that made America what it is today.
“We are also deeply indebted to Sens. Stabenow and Blunt, whose tireless efforts are why the National Heritage Area Act is one step closer to crossing the finish line.”
Capen said the Stabenow-Blunt bill would provide long-term authorization for America’s national heritage areas and a steady stream of federal funding.
The act establishes standard criteria for funding, management and designation of MPNHA and other national heritage areas. It sets an annual authorization of up to $1 million for each, which would represent a significant increase for the MPNHA.
“If enacted, the National Heritage Area Act would prevent future funding cliffs,” ANHA press release says.
When the MPNHA was established, Congress decided the six-county area running generally along U.S. 89 “was the best example of Mormon colonizing that is left,” Bona said. Its landscaping, architecture and other qualities reflect the colonizing of the American West.
In addition to Sanpete County, the MPNHA includes Garfield, Kane, Piute, Sevier and Wayne. The organization helps fund a projects to interpret and preserve the Mormon pioneer heritage. In the process, Bona said, the MPNHA has supported many small businesses and the rural way of life.
The MPHNA is required to match federal funds spent on any project. At minimum, a project must receive 50 percent of its funds from sources other than MPNHA and 50 percent from the heritage area. But often, projects receive many times the amount of the MPNHA support from other sources. While in theory, the MPNHA could continue without federal funding, such a loss would likely cripple it, Bona said.