Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area Meets NPS Criteria
The steering committee, and interim board of directors, working to establish the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area (SDCNHA) made a giant leap forward when they traveled to Washington, DC in June to call on our elected officials. Joint bills to designate the SDCNHA were introduced in both the House and Senate in November 2005 by Congressman John Salazar and Senator Ken Salazar. Ann Marie Velasquez, chairman of the interim Board of Directors for the organization, was called to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks on June 22nd. Testimonies for five National Heritage Area bills were heard, with the National Park Service offering testimony on each of them and a representative from each individual area also testifying.
The process of being designated as a National Heritage Area starts with a grassroots effort within the region wanting designation and continues with building support for the designation through public awareness and interaction with the process. The designation is handed down by the US Congress through the Department of the Interior. 27 National Heritage Areas exist in the continental United States with most residing in the eastern states. Four National Heritage Areas are west of the Mississippi River, one of those being Cache La Poudre National Heritage Area here in Colorado.
The subcommittee hearing was successful for the three county region of Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla, as the National Park Service (NPS) testified that the feasibility study, required by the US Congress, had met all of their criteria. In the verbal summation of his written testimony, NPS Deputy Director Donald Murphy, said that the feasibility study was well researched with much community input and stood as a superior example of what a feasibility study should be. He concluded that the NPS would support the designation of the SDCNHA with certain changes in the language of bill S. 2037. These changes would make S. 2037 consistent with other, similar, national heritage area establishment bills.
During opening statements from the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, Senator Ken Salazar spoke eloquently about the history and heritage of the proposed Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. At the end of his remarks, he recognized Commissioner Robert Bagwell who had traveled to Washington to be present for the hearing. Senator Salazar made it clear that he respected the commissioner who has been a long time friend and colleague.
While in Washington for the hearing, four members of the steering committee and board of directors were joined by Commissioner Robert Bagwell of Conejos County and two residents of the proposed region. The group met with the National Park Service's Brenda Barrett to discuss the process from the federal perspective and the accomplishments of other National Heritage Areas.
Meetings with Congressman John Salazar, Senator Ken Salazar and Senator Wayne Allard were attended by all members of the group. The designation process, language of the bills and goals that would affect the designated region were discussed in detail.
Funding from the Conejos and Costilla Boards of County Commissioners and the Sierra Grande School District sponsored much of the trip to Washington, DC for the three members of the board of directors, Ann Marie Velasquez, Emerita Romero-Anderson, and Dennis Lopez and one member of the steering committee, Rick Manzanares. Further funding is pending from the Alamosa Marketing District. The group would like to offer thanks to these organizations for their support of the designation efforts.
A National Heritage Area designation brings with it federal funding over the length of the authorization, capping at $10,000,000.00. These federal dollars work to leverage other partnership funding to conserve, protect and preserve historic properties, natural resources, local heritage and cultural activities. Educational venues, workshops and curricula would also be included.
Several project goals that the SDCNHA have identified are to preserve customs, language, traditions of local cultures and to create economic opportunities through tourism and preservation efforts.