The National Aviation Heritage Act: No Way to Celebrate the Wright Brothers

BACKGROUND: The U. S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Nov. 18 on the “National Aviation Heritage Act,” H.R. 280. Sponsored by Rep. David Hobson (R-OH), the bill would create a National Aviation Heritage Area encompassing several counties in Ohio and Indiana to commemorate the nation’s aviation history. Inspired by the rapidly approaching one-hundredth anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (which took place on December 17, 1903), the bill would also create an Aviation Heritage Foundation to manage the Heritage Area. The cost to the taxpayers is set at $10 million.1

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: The creation of a new National Heritage Area will lead to more federal zoning and land-use restrictions.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Experience shows that the rights of residential and commercial property owners are often undermined in National Heritage Areas. In the name of preserving the historic “landscape” of the area in question, federal officials often develop management plans that are little more than zoning imposed by Washington bureaucrats.2

DISCUSSION: There are 23 National Heritage Areas in the United States, most of them located east of the Mississippi River.3 Under the guise of promoting environmental protection, preserving open space, and fostering historic preservation, the National Park Service, which oversees the program, and an assortment of interest groups have used the law to infringe upon the property rights of those living within the boundaries of Heritage Areas.

As J. Peyton Knight of the American Policy Center told the House Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands earlier this year, “If the Heritage Areas program is allowed to proliferate, experience shows that it will become not only a funding albatross, as more and more interest groups gather around the federal trough, but also a program that quashes property rights and local economies through restrictive federal zoning practices. The real beneficiaries of a National Heritage Area program are conservation groups, preservation societies, land trusts, and the National Park Service — essentially, organizations that are in constant pursuit of federal dollars, land acquisition, and restrictions to development.”4

Furthermore, the National Park Service is already facing a multi-billion maintenance backlog.5 Under the best of circumstances, it will take the Park Service years to repair the crumbling infrastructure of the national parks and other areas under its jurisdiction. Adding another Heritage Area to a system that is already overburdened is simply irresponsible.

As the National Park Service itself noted in testimony before Congress earlier this year, “some national heritage areas have been designated without a clear indication of the ability of the management entity to assume responsibility for management of the area. The management entity subsequently has operated the area without a clear financial plan for achieving self-sufficiency without federal support. Consequently, it is time to step back, evaluate existing areas, and develop legislative guidelines that will shape future national heritage area designations.”6

Americans should be proud of the Wright Brothers’ splendid historical achievement of 100 years ago. Creating a new National Heritage Area is no way to celebrate man’s first flight.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Testimony of J. Peyton Knight of the American Policy Center before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands of the House Resources Committee, September 16, 2003, at

Testimony of deTeel Patterson Tiller, Acting Associate Director for Cultural Resources, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands of the House Resources Committee, October 16, 2003, at

National Park Service webpage on National Heritage Areas at

by Bonner Cohen, Senior Fellow
The National Center for Public Policy Research

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