STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON
ACTING ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK,
U. S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS
OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING S. 2254, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE MISSISSIPPI HILLS
NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA IN THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI,
AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
APRIL 9, 2008
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2254, a bill to establish the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area in the State of Mississippi.
The Department cannot support S. 2254 unless the bill is amended to be a feasibility study for a Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area in the State of Mississippi. The Department believes that a feasibility study should be required for every proposed national heritage area and the study should be evaluated against our interim criteria before designation. The standards for evaluating areas proposed for national designation are an essential element prior to establishing a national heritage area. A study should be prepared that demonstrates evidence of place-based resources that tell a nationally important story, which has the support and involvement of the local community.
Although the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance has completed a "Three-Year Strategic Plan for the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area" and an impressive array of partners and potential funders has been assembled, fundamental questions have yet to be formally addressed regarding the region's eligibility for designation as a national heritage area.
The Department is willing to provide advice or assistance in the completion of a study that meets applicable standards and provides Congress with the necessary information and assessment upon which to base its decision regarding designation in the future.
With 37 national heritage areas designated across 27 states, and more heritage area legislative proposals forthcoming, the Administration believes it is critical for Congress to enact national heritage area program legislation. This legislation would provide a much-needed framework for evaluating proposed national heritage areas, offering guidelines for successful planning and management, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of all parties, and standardizing timeframes and funding for designated areas. Program legislation would also clarify the expectation that heritage areas would work toward self-sufficiency by outlining the necessary steps, including appropriate planning, to achieve that goal.
S. 2254 would establish the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area in northeast Mississippi. The area would encompass all or part of 30 counties. It would also include the Delta National Forest. The bill designates the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance as the management entity. The Alliance is a non-profit organization registered by the State of Mississippi, with the cooperation and support of the University of Mississippi. The bill provides for the development of a management plan that would inventory resources of the area, recommend conservation measures, identify sources of funding, and consider public involvement mechanisms.
The bill would authorize Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area to promote and help conserve a number of important natural and cultural resources. Included within its proposed boundaries are the sites of important Civil War battles, the birthplaces of a number of noteworthy Americans, the first public college for women in the United States, the Mississippi University for Women, and Rust College, founded in 1866, which is one of the oldest black colleges in the United States. The proposed Mississippi National Heritage Area would encompass the Natchez Trace Parkway; the Holly Springs and Tombigbee National Forests; the Sardis, Enid, and Grenada Lakes; the Strawberry Plains State Audubon Center; the Tishomingo State Park; and the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.
Mr. Chairman, the Department is prepared to work with the subcommittee on amending S. 2254 to authorize a feasibility study for a Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area, in the State of Mississippi.
This concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or any members of the Subcommittee may have.