WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congress has approved funds to study creation of the West Coast's first National Heritage Area centered here at the mouth of the Columbia River.

The Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area Study Act first passed the House last year after being introduced by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird. This year it was included in the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, which was passed by the U.S. Senate last week and the U.S. House this week. It will now be sent to the White House for the president's signature.

Land in Pacific, Wahkiakum, Clatsop, and Columbia counties will be included in the feasibility study.

"Today, Congress recognized the historic and cultural significance of this region, and this is an important step to preserve the mouth of the Columbia River for generations to come," Baird said in a press release. "Once the areas at the mouth of the Columbia River are designated as a National Heritage Area, millions of federal dollars will be available to promote tourism in the region, create jobs, and strengthen our local economy."

National Heritage Areas unite disparate parts of a historically and culturally significant area under a common purpose. Baird's bill authorizes the National Park Service and local stakeholders to conduct a feasibility study of the proposed area, a process that can take up to three years. The study will examine a number of elements including whether the proposed area has natural, historic, cultural, educational, scenic, or recreational resources that are important to our nation's heritage. 

Once the feasibility study is complete, the lawmakers will likely introduce new legislation to officially designate the land as a National Heritage Area. After the designation passes the House and Senate and is signed into law, local and regional stakeholders must develop a management plan for the area. The Secretary of the Interior will then approve the management plan, making the National Heritage Area eligible for $10 million over 15 years. 

"The rich history and cultural significance of the lands at the mouth of the Columbia demands that it be designated a National Heritage area," Baird said. "A National Heritage Area will help continue this momentum and ensure the region continues to attract families, outdoorsmen and women, history buffs, and others to enhance its sustainable tourism economy."

There are 24 National Heritage Areas across the country; the lawmakers are working to secure the first National Heritage Area on the West Coast. In a Congressional hearing held last year, the Bush administration endorsed this legislation.

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