Heritage areas must build ties

David Vela, the Southeast regional director of the National Park Service, addresses managers of national heritage areas who are taking part in a summit in Augusta this week.

National heritage area managers were advised Tuesday to rely more on local and regional partnerships as competition increases for a shrinking pool of federal dollars.


"We are looking at some pretty flat budgets in the years to come," said David Vela, the Southeast regional director of the National Park Service. "The model we are using today is how to maintain just a basic level of services."

Vela, who addressed attendees at the Alliance of National Heritage Areas spring meeting in Augusta, said local communities will continue to be a focal point in the quest to showcase nationally significant resources not owned by the Park Service.

"From our end, building new buildings and adding new infrastructure will not be part of the picture in coming years," he said. "That is the fiscal reality of the day."

There are 49 heritage areas in the U.S., including the Augusta Canal, which was designated by Congress in 1996.

The program was devised as a way to offer federal resources, funding and advisory services to promote preservation and tourism in significant areas. Its framework encourages participation from multiple jurisdictions united for a common cause.

"It's all about neighborhoods and communities working with state agencies and local jurisdictions," Vela said. "It's about building relationships."

The Augusta Canal site is mostly owned by the city of Augusta but is operated as a recreation and historic site -- and as an industrial structure that supplies residents with water and hydropower.

Its authorizing legislation allows for as much as $1 million a year in federal funding, but annual appropriations are typically much less.

The Canal Authority gets revenue from the sale of hydropower and assistance from the Augusta Utilities Department, which maintains much of the area because of its role as a municipal water source.

The heritage area group's meeting in Augusta runs through Thursday.