Heritage area is a tool for preservation and wise developmentDesignation of our community as a National Heritage Area will be notable for many reasons, but perhaps most so for firmly establishing that the Lower Columbia-Pacific region is a "community."

This is not to denigrate the importance of preserving and enhancing the unique characters of our many towns, villages and neighborhoods. In fact, that diversity and colorful personality is a large part of what makes this area noteworthy.

But there is much more that unites us than divides us. Aside from a challenging climate, we are a people of the forests and waters, heirs to one of the nation's richest histories. Effectively split off from one another by the Columbia during much of the 20th century, economic and cultural influences are now drawing the people of Pacific and Clatsop counties together again. Being linked in one National Heritage Area will formalize this marriage.

There is much to be gained from such a marriage. Some misunderstand this as merely a marketing tool, a way to reach out to visitors by generating a positive buzz about all they can see and experience here. It may indeed be beneficial in this way.

More important is how the heritage designation can help how we think about ourselves and assist in carving a distinctive path into the future.

This is a place, a culture, a history and a future that deserve the strongest pride. Consider the thousands of years of complex Chinook civilization on these storm-lashed shores and dark hills. Think of our place in the age of exploration and sail, the tales of heroism and tenacity, of hard-working fishermen, of lifesavers and lighthouse keepers, of loggers and giant trees, of oystermen, railroad men and crabbers. Think of the mothers and grandmothers holding the whole show together with love and lutefisk.

National Heritage Area designation is a marvelous tool. We can use it to keep all this alive and well now and into the distant future. Our heritage isn't something to be locked up in a curio cabinet to be pulled out for display to tourists. It is the way we choose to live, paying tribute to the past while deliberately shaping a future that honors and utilizes all that came before.

Our congressmen and senators deserve solid support in their reinvigorated efforts to establish the West Coast's first National Heritage Area here.

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