“Hallowed Ground”: A National Heritage Area History Lesson

Peyton Knight and I have a disagreement. He thinks the biggest problem with National Heritage Areas is that they spur federal interference in local decision-making and undermine the private property rights of small landowners.

I, on the other hand, am concerned more by the notion that they are earmarks by another name: A way for elected officials to slip federal funds to a pre-selected group of politically-connected insiders.

Who’s right? Maybe both. Decide for yourself as you read this blog entry submitted by Peyton Knight about a recent National Center event designed to educate Congressional staffers and others about National Heritage Areas:

Last Friday, a delegation of preservation activists and congressional staffers set out on a day-long bus tour of Virginia historic sites. The outing was spearheaded by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, a consortium of preservation groups, congressmen and senators who are lobbying to create a “Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area” along a massive 175-mile corridor that encompasses portions of VA, WV, MD and PA.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) has authored legislation, H.R. 5195, to create the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Heritage Area. Though billed as an innocuous plan that would simply bring national prominence to the region (and supposedly enhance tourism), Wolf’s bill really amounts to a pork-barrel earmark to the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and the rest of the JTHG partnership to help them “manage” land use in the region. Various special interests have been lobbying for the designation for nearly a decade.

According to the text of the legislation, if H.R. 5195 is approved, a pre-organized group of preservationists and federal employees would form a “management entity” that would be given a federal mandate to create an “inventory” of all property in the area that it wants “preserved,” “managed,” or “acquired” because of its “national historic significance.” The entity would receive federal tax dollars and authorization to distribute money to local policymakers to encourage the policymakers to impose the policies sought by the management group. Under the legislation, eligibility for membership in the board of directors of the “management entity” would be limited to members of the partnership at the time of the legislation’s enactment.

The policies sought by the entity will be up to them, but are likely to including zoning restrictions, land acquisitions, and other activities.

That’s the skinny on the boondoggle; now back to Friday’s tour.

When the “tourists” rolled up to their Oatlands Plantation tour stop, they encountered a group of property rights advocates led by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Keeping with the theme of the tour, The National Center’s Ryan Balis donned a uniform like that worn by General Robert E. Lee, and Peyton Knight wore an Army General’s uniform to symbolize General George C. Marshall, whose Dodona Manor home the tourists had visited earlier in the day. Mike Hardiman of Hardiman Consulting dressed as Thomas Jefferson. Several local folks also showed up to voice their concern and displeasure with Rep. Wolf’s National Heritage Area scheme.

These aforementioned historical Virginians distributed flyers to members of the tour, and explained why the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Heritage Area would be bad for property rights and would harm the ability of local citizens to influence land use policies in their own communities. They also urged the congressional staffers and their special interest hosts that as they tour Virginia’s hallowed ground, they should not only enjoy learning about the extraordinary lives of great historical figures, but also bear in mind the principles that the Founders held dear — namely, property rights and limited, local government.

On a side note, the tour, complete with a catered dinner at the end, was underwritten by the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s Virginia Works Program, which is funded by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In other words, Virginia taxpayers footed the bill for this lobbying junket that was designed to convince the U.S. Congress to erode Virginians’ autonomy over zoning and land use policy.

Be advised, Virginia taxpayers: This wasn’t just another instance of “your tax dollars at work.” This was your tax dollars at work against you.

(Note: To read more about the negative implications of National Heritage Areas, click here, here and here. To learn more about The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s crusade against property rights, click here.)

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.