A new federal law recognizes Washington’s maritime heritage

The Maritime Washington National Heritage Area — which now encompasses about 3,000 miles of saltwater shoreline in Western Washington — was created yesterday within a wide-ranging lands bill signed into law by President Trump.

Maritime Washington National Heritage Area encompasses most of the saltwater shoreline throughout Western Washington.
Map: Maritime Washington NHA feasibility study

Created to celebrate the maritime history and culture of Puget Sound and Coastal Washington, the Maritime Washington NHA is the first designated area of its kind in the United States to focus entirely on maritime matters.

The designation is expected to provide funding to promote and coordinate maritime museums, historic ships, boatbuilding, and education, including discussions of early marine transportation and commerce in Washington state.

“We are thrilled about this,” said Chris Moore, executive director of the nonprofit Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. “The stories we want to convey are important to so many people.

“This is the culmination of probably over a decade of work and six or seven years of legislation in Congress,” he told me during a phone call from Washington, D.C., shortly after the bill was signed.

The Natural Resources Management Act, signed yesterday, permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired on Sept. 30. The much-heralded fund draws money from oil and gas royalties and is spent on community recreation and conservation projects throughout the country.

The massive bipartisan bill incorporates more than 110 separate pieces of legislation, including wilderness designations, new wild and scenic rivers and additions to national parks, trails and conservation areas.

“Public lands and access to lands are a juggernaut part of our economy,” said Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell in a news release. “This legislation gives the tools and resources to local communities to manage this, to give more access to the American people, to do the things that will help us grow jobs and help us recreate for the future and preserve against a very challenging and threatening climate.”

The legislation was introduced by Cantwell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. It passed the Senate, 92-8.

Six new national heritage areas were created by the act, including two in Washington state and two in California. In addition to the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area, Washington state now has the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area, which designates some 1.5-million acres along Interstate 90 from Seattle to Ellensburg.

The Maritime Washington NHA may be the most unusual among the nation’s 55 national heritage areas, for it designates the shoreline almost everywhere — but only the land a quarter-mile inland from shore. It is kind of an informal line that specifically excludes privately owned areas that have been zoned for residential or agricultural use. In fact, while the designation recognizes the historical use of the shoreline, it provides no authority to impose any changes in land use or ownership.

“The most significant change that would come with designation as a Heritage Area would be the opportunity to organize and deliver programs and communicate with visitors regionally, rather than locally, and jointly rather than independently,” states a feasibility study on the NHA (PDF 9.2 mb). “Activity at this scale should complement, rather than compete with the current work being done by local stakeholders.”

The new legislation establishes the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation as the “facilitating organization” for launching the program, coordinating the players and drafting a management plan within the first three years.

“We will be moving to that stage now,” said Chris Moore. “We will be convening folks to start looking at the management plan.”

Many options are possible, from promoting events, tourism and education to passing along federal dollars for worthy local projects, he said. All ideas will be on the table.

The federal legislation authorizes up to $1 million a year for the first 10 years for each new national heritage area, provided that Congress appropriates the money and that the facilitating organizations come up with an equal match of funds or “in-kind” services.

The designated area includes generally all of Washington’s coast and inland waters, although Pacific County was purposely excluded, because it would be included in a separate national heritage area being considered for the Columbia River. Nevertheless, Pacific County is recognized for its important maritime heritage and could play a role in the wider effort.

The feasibility report makes a strong case for encouraging Washington residents to embrace their maritime heritage and for showing visitors how Northwest maritime activities influenced the entire country.

Western Washington has been shaped by its maritime heritage — from Native American canoe cultures to the age of sailing-ship exploration to the development of maritime industry, according to the report.

“Designation is a way to tell the bigger story of Washington’s maritime history and culture alongside the detailed stories of individual places and themes,” the report says. “Telling the bigger story — one that brings together old and new, the Pacific and Puget Sound, large craft and small — will engage more of the public and better share the history, drama, and excitement of our maritime heritage.”

3 thoughts on “A new federal law recognizes Washington’s maritime heritage

  1. “The legislation was introduced by Cantwell and Sen. Lisa Murkowsky”

    Ironic that Sen. Murkowski was first elected as a write-in where misspelling her name invalidated the vote.

    1. Good article, Chris. Having grown up “on the water,” in SE Alaska and Puget Sound, I’m especially interested in local maritime history. Various family members have been active on Puget Sound since the 1880s when great grandfather Burrow homesteaded on Maury Island. Dad and his brother both served on merchant ships operating out of Seattle. His father rowed from Des Moines around Whidbey Island in the 1890s then sailed to Alaska (bound for the Klondike) and back, 1897-1900. Mom’s father made multiple Seattle-Nome roundtrips beginning in 1899 and she made yearly Ketchikan-Seattle roundtrips in the 1920s and early ’30s while at UW and teaching jobs in the States. btw, Lisa Murkowski’s mother Nancy and grandparents Irene and Lester Gore were personal friends of Mom.

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