Legislation seeks to establish Black Belt Heritage Area

Published 12:47 pm Monday, March 9, 2020

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U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) introduced legislation in the Senate to establish the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area, authorizing nineteen counties in Alabama’s Black Belt Region as a National Heritage Area (NHA).  The bill — titled the “Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act,” S.3363 — would allow for federal funding to be directed to the designated region over the span of 15 years.

“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt region as a National Heritage Area will not only promote tourism, but it will also increase public awareness of the natural, historical, and cultural assets our state has to offer,” said Senator Shelby.  “Investing in this region to preserve these unique and diverse resources is important for future generations.  If passed, this legislation could have significant impact for years to come.”

“Alabama’s Black Belt counties were originally named due to the area’s rich, black topsoil,” said Senator Jones.  “While that is still an accurate depiction of the area, another is of the Black Belt’s rich history and culture.  The 19 counties that make up Alabama’s Black Belt has been home to some of our greatest artists, writers, and leaders.  This legislation will help preserve and celebrate this historic region through much needed investment.”

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The established area includes the following counties: Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington, and Wilcox.  The legislation names the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama (UWA) as the local management entity.  The designation of a local entity, like UWA, ensures its ability to address the interests and needs of those in the surrounding communities.

NHAs are partnerships between the National Park Service (NPS), states, and local entities to protect and support conservation and public access. Through public-private partnerships, NHAs create a diverse, community-driven approach to increase heritage conservation, economic development, recreation, and tourism.  Currently, the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is the only NHA in the state.

Alabama Representatives Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), and Martha Roby (R-Ala.) introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, March 4 issue of the Demopolis Times.)