Bills would extend Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area 15 more years

WASHINGTON—A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to extend the lifespan of the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area (MPNHA) in Central Utah and Great Basin National Heritage Area (GBNHA) for another 15 years. 

The Great Basin National Heritage Area and Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area Extension Act was introduced in late March. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats from Nevada.

Without reauthorization, the two heritage areas, created in 2006, will cease to be eligible for federal funds on Oct. 12 of this year.

“The Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area highlights our rich history and culture,” Sen. Romney said. “I’m proud to sponsor the effort in the Senate to ensure that these heritage areas continue to impact the lives of our community for many years to come.”

Both heritage areas have been receiving about $300,000 annually. And both are required to match every federal dollar they receive, dollar for dollar, with state, local and private contributions.

In practice, both entities generate several times the amount they receive in federal funds. But the federal dollars represent their base funding, which for the MPNHA is used as “seed money” to attract funding partners, said Monte Bona, executive director of the MPNHA.

Since the MPNHA was founded, “we’ve received $2.4 million, but we’ve leveraged that to support over $40 million in projects,” Bona said. “That shows we are a heritage area that uses its money to leverage money and do projects on the ground.”

The 2006 legislation establishing the heritage areas authorized them for 15 years. The extension act simply amends the 2006 act to substitute “30 years” for “15 years” as the lifespan of the areas. That has the effect of authorizing the heritage areas for 30 years beyond the 2006 date of the original bill or until 2036. So the effect is to extend the operations for 15 years beyond their sunset dates this year.

Other than the two-word change, the original authorizing legislation will stay intact, Bona said.

There are about 50 heritage areas around the country. As of 2019, 45 of them faced sunset dates between 2019 and 2024.

The Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA) has been pushing a bill to reauthorize a large number of heritage areas in a single bill. That measure also seeks to change the funding formula so all heritage areas receive the same annual amount.

The ANHA bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Paul Tonko, R-New York, and Rep. David McKinley, R-West Virginia. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan. 

If the “omnibus” measure passes, it could cover the MPHNA and GBNHA. But with their sunset date looming, the two areas decided they needed to work on their own separate act, Bona said. 

The MPNHA has funded motorized and non-motorized trails and interpretive sites, veterans memorials and the “Discovery Road” TV series. But its primary activity has been participating with other partners in historic preservation of scores of buildings along U.S. 89.

A few examples in Sanpete County include Fairview Dance Hall, Liberal Hall and the Music Conservatory building at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, the old Spring City School, the Hansen House and Bishop’s Storehouse in Ephraim, the historic library and old city hall in Manti, Fountain Green Social Hall, Moroni Opera House and the Casino Star Theater in Gunnison.

The Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area runs along U.S. 89 from U.S. 6 to the Arizona border, including Sanpete, Sevier, Piute, Wayne, Garfield and Kane counties.

Besides the U.S. 89 corridor, there is an extension to the west along S.R. 132 into Moroni and Fountain Green, and another arm running along S.R. 12 and S.R. 24 through Wayne and Garfield counties. The two routes, forming what is known as the “Boulder Loop,” lead into Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks.

 The Great Basin Heritage Area includes Millard County in Utah and several counties in eastern Nevada. It is adjacent to Great Basin National Park.