Pennsylvania’s heritage areas program has made the Commonwealth a national leader in the heritage areas movement. Pennsylvania is home to 12 state designated Heritage Areas. Five of these state Heritage Areas have also been designated as National Heritage Areas. Pennsylvania has more national heritage areas than any other state in the country. Established in 1989, the Heritage Areas Program is a smartly built, multi-faceted regional strategy to conserve and enhance those resources and promote its heritage for tourism development. It is also a key component in the state’s second leading industry –tourism.
The program has empowered each of the Heritage Areas to be an innovator in regional community conservation and revitalization, heritage tourism, greenway preservation, and story-telling. For over twenty years this program has made possible the building of partnerships across public, private, and non-profit lines to create projects and programs that foster economic and tourism development.
Through regional partnerships and grass-roots planning strategies, historic, cultural, natural, scenic, and recreational resources are preserved and developed to strengthen regional economies through increased tourism, creation of new jobs and new investment opportunities. Working on a large landscape scale, this bottom-up approach has become a national model for innovative strategic planning.
The essence of the program is to provide a catalyst for diverse groups within a region to join together to develop a unified strategy. Strong planning guidelines assess the values of the region to be promoted and engage its residents. Representatives from the public, private, and non-profit sector are involved in the planning and implementation stages. As a result, community vitality is strengthened, residents and visitors are educated, and heritage tourists are attracted and engaged.
The program is guided by five interrelated goals including economic development; partnerships; cultural conservation; recreation and open space; and education and interpretation.