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National Heritage Area Feasibility Study - Finger Lakes Heritage Area

Denver Service Center » National Heritage Area Feasibility Study - Finger Lakes Heritage Area » Document List

As directed by Congress in 2019, the National Park Service prepared a National Heritage Area Feasibility Study of the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The Finger Lakes are a chain of narrow lakes found in central New York State roughly stretching from Syracuse to Rochester and were once north-to-south flowing rivers that were dammed by glaciers' retreat during the last Ice Age. The feasibility study evaluated the natural, historic, cultural, educational, and recreational resources to assess if they are collectively nationally worthy of recognition, conservation, interpretation, and continuing use through designation as a National Heritage Area (NHA). The study determined that the study area meets the criteria to be eligible for inclusion as part of the National Heritage Area System.


National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historical resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important stories. Unlike national parks, NHAs are lived in-communities and not federally owned but may contain parks or other federally owned property. Through public-private partnerships, NHAs tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation's diverse heritage. National Heritage Areas are managed by a local entity in partnership with individual citizens; local, state, federal, and sovereign Native Nations' governments; and nonprofit and business sector groups. Together, these entities work to preserve the integrity of the area's distinctive landscape and nationally important stories so that current and future generations understand this relationship to the land. The federal government does not acquire land, manage land, or change land use controls through the creation of a National Heritage Area. The National Park Service provides technical, planning, and financial assistance to National Heritage Areas while decision-making authority is retained by the local people.

National Heritage Area System additions are designated by acts of Congress. A feasibility study serves as the reference source for those interested in the potential creation of an area in the National Heritage Area System. Because the study is not a decision-making document, it does not identify a preferred NPS course of action. Only Congress can designate a new National Heritage Area.

Congress passed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act (Public Law 116-9) in 2019 which directed the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to determine the suitability and feasibility of designating a 14-county study area in New York (Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne, and Yates Counties) as a National Heritage Area. The Secretary of the Interior delegated preparation of the study to the NPS. The NPS team used evaluation criteria for a potential National Heritage Area designation based on requirements from Public Law 116-9 and the NPS National Heritage Area Feasibility Study Guidelines (2019) to evaluate the appropriateness and feasibility of creating a Finger Lakes National Heritage Area. The team consulted subject-matter experts, state and local governments, sovereign Native Nations, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and the public to inform the study process.

The study found a wide range of resources connected to the Finger Lakes geography and identity which create a distinctive landscape conveying unique physical, historic, and cultural connections. The numerous sites, municipalities, and organizations within the study area represent a nationally important assemblage that could form a viable national heritage area and support efficient management of the sites through collaboration among active partners. The study found that Central New York's landscape is nationally important for its association with the distinct geological formations of the Finger Lakes, resulting in the landscape serving as home to North America's politically influential participatory democracy via the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, as the breadbasket of the Northeast, and as the playground for generations of Americans and international audiences.

Please use the "Links" tab on the left to visit the NPS National Heritage Area program website.

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