A report on a feasibility study for a proposed National Heritage Area in south-central and southeast Missouri is available for public review and comment. The study area encompasses Carter, Dent, Douglas, Howell, Iron, Oregon, Ozark, Reynolds, Ripley, Shannon, Texas, Wayne, and Wright counties.
The National Heritage Area (NHA) program gives special recognition and support to places that have made distinctive contributions to American culture. If the proposed NHA in this region were to be designated, it would be the first NHA based in Missouri; Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, based in Kansas, includes 12 counties in western Missouri. There are now 49 NHAs throughout the United States, varying widely in size and reflecting many different cultural themes. Congress is considering bills that would designate additional NHAs in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Alabama, Illinois, Texas, California and Hawaii.
The report is available in public libraries throughout the 13-county region and on the West Plains Council on the Arts website (http:www.wparts.org), the South Central Ozarks Council of Governments website (www.scocog.org), and the website of musician, author and journalist Marideth Sisco (www.maridethsisco.com).
Kathleen Morrissey, administrator of the West Plains Council on the Arts, said, “We encourage every citizen of our region to read this study and to share their thoughts on how and whether we should proceed with further thinking about a possible Heritage Area.”
For about six years, the West Plains Council on the Arts and its subsidiary organization, Ozarks Preservation Inc., have been interested in the possibility of pursuing NHA status because of its potential to enable residents of a region to benefit economically from their cultural assets. An NHA could facilitate the marketing of cultural sites and events, the work of traditional artists and craftspeople, locally grown foods and related resources of the Missouri Ozarks in a more integrated and more effective way. An NHA could help to keep stories of life in this region in past generations a part of living memory through ongoing documentation and interpretive programming.
Ozark Action Inc., began a collaboration with Ozarks Preservation Inc., and the West Plains Council on the Arts in December 2009 to conduct the feasibility study using federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds received by Ozark Action Inc., from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided by the Missouri Department of Social Services, Family Support Division. The funds received from the Family Support Division were all federally funded. Ozark Action’s participation reflects its mission to foster economic opportunity and improve the quality of life in the region.
Ozark Action Inc. commissioned Jeffrey L. Bruce & Company of Kansas City to prepare the feasibility study report. Additionally, Missouri State University-West Plains served in an advisory capacity.
Although the NHA program was initiated by the National Park Service, NHAs are not national parks. The NHA program’s website states, “The National Park Service (NPS) provides technical, planning and limited financial assistance to National Heritage Areas. The NPS is a partner and adviser, leaving decision-making authority in the hands of local people and organizations.”
Participation in an NHA’s activities is entirely voluntary. The NHA program does not involve acquisition of land and never requires private property owners to grant access to their properties. All legislation designating NHAs as such includes the following clause protecting the rights of property owners:
“Nothing in this management plan shall be construed to require any private property owner to permit public access (including federal, state or local government access) to such private property. Nothing in this management plan shall be construed to modify any provision of federal, state or local law with regard to public access to or use of private lands.”
The study reflects research conducted in recent years by the West Plains Council on the Arts and Ozarks Preservation Inc., especially civic engagement sessions held throughout the region during the past summer and fall. At least one such session – and, in most cases, multiple sessions – took place in each of the 13 counties under consideration. These took various forms, ranging from interviews to large-group discussions and included meetings with historical societies, arts organizations, civic groups, economic development groups and public officials.
The study represents only one step in an ongoing exploratory process that will benefit from extensive public input. Area residents are encouraged to read the report and to comment on it by writing to the West Plains Council on the Arts at P.O. Box 339, West Plains, Mo., 65775, or by e-mail to email@example.com or calling the West Plains Council on the Arts at 417-256-1813 or West Plains Council on the Arts folklorist Matt Meacham at 417-372-3177. Area citizens may submit their responses and recommendations until March 5.
“We hope residents throughout our region will offer their opinions about all aspects of this feasibility study,” said West Plains Council on the Arts folklorist Meacham. “We want to be certain that it accurately reflects the views and wishes of the people who live here.”