Congressman Derek Kilmer

Congressman Derek Kilmer at the Grays Harbor Lighthouse in March 2019, discussing the recently-passed Maritime Washington National Heritage Act. Public forums to discuss a plan for the National Heritage Area created by the Act, which includes the Grays Harbor County coast, begin in January.

WASHINGTON COAST — In March 2019, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer stood alongside the Grays Harbor Lighthouse in Westport to tout the passage of the Maritime Washington National Heritage Act as “a powerful tool for promoting local tourism and economic development.”

That day the act “is a tool that expands eligibility for federal grants, a tool that can help with tourism promotion, marketing coordination and assistance with the operation of museums and visitors centers,” said Kilmer. “There is no better place to hold this event than the Grays Harbor Lighthouse, a beacon for fishers and shippers for 120 years and still standing proud, just like this community.”

Now, a steering committee is reaching out to stakeholders, including the general public, to develop a management plan to implement the Act.

“It’s been a long time coming, but now that Congress has designated the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area, the next step is the development of a management plan,” said Cosmopolis maritime stalwart Les Bolton, who has been involved with the effort for a decade and has been on the Act steering committee since July.

Bolton said the committee has reached out to its “first key stakeholders,” and “will be reaching out to engage the public after the first of the year.”

3,000 miles of coastline

The Maritime Washington National Heritage Area encompasses 3,000 miles of Washington State’s saltwater coastline — from Grays Harbor County to the Canadian border — and includes 18 federally recognized tribes, 32 incorporated cities, and 30 port districts, as well as a number of harbors, inlets, peninsulas, island shores, and parks.

The heritage area would consist of lighthouses, historic vessels and other landmarks located within one-quarter mile of the shoreline in 13 counties, including Grays Harbor, Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, San Juan, Island, King, Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam.

Westport Maritime Museum Executive Director John Shaw has been an active participant in the Act and said, two years after he introduced Kilmer at the lighthouse in March 2019, and will continue to be part of the guidance.

“We went out and raised funds and completed investigatory work in advance of this program going into effect as lighthouses are a specific mention in the bill,” said Shaw.

While there are about 50 National Heritage Areas in the U.S., the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area is the first in the Pacific Northwest, and the only one in the country focused entirely on maritime heritage.

Washington Trust support

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit organization, is facilitating the area. According to a statement from the trust, National Heritage Areas “are unique in that they are supported by the National Park Service but are locally managed, are entirely non-regulatory, and involve no change in land ownership.” Rather, they “are built on public-private partnerships and collaboration to support communities in sharing their unique stories and maintaining resources that matter to them.”

The statement continued, “By working with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs, (heritage areas) can support historic preservation, economic development, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects on the local level.”

Over the next year, the Washington Trust will collaborate with communities throughout the area to create an operational plan for the heritage area that is “relevant to local interests and needs,” according to the statement. The planning process will be built from the ground up, with local residents and maritime partners shaping the future of the area.

“Throughout the first half of 2021, there will be many opportunities for members of the public to share their views and ideas through virtual workshops, surveys, social media, focus groups, and more,” read the statement. “These collaborative efforts will culminate in a management plan which will serve as a road map for the heritage area,” outlining its mission, partnership structure, programs, interpretive strategies, potential grant making roles, and more.

The first public information session about the heritage area will be held virtually Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. To sign up, visit www.preservewa.org/mwnha-events.

After gathering stakeholder input, the Washington Trust aims to present a draft of its plan for public review by late fall of 2021.

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