Congratulations to local organizers who have worked so hard to gain approval for a National Heritage Area for eastern Kansas. The proposal has passed the U.S. Senate, and organizers are eagerly awaiting its approval in the U.S. House, perhaps by the end of the week.
The proposed heritage area would encompass 26 counties, including Douglas County, and focus on the Bleeding Kansas period of American history. The federal designation could draw as much as $10 million in federal funding over the next 10 years to preserve and interpret the Bleeding Kansas era and attract tourists to the area.
Although the effort includes a large section of eastern Kansas, much of the impetus for the heritage area came from local officials, including Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, and a group led by Deanell Tacha, chief judge of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The group also received key help from our congressional delegation, which introduced and pursued the bill currently under consideration.
The heritage area is a huge feather in the state's historical cap. Only 27 National Heritage Areas exist in the nation; the bill approved by the Senate would add nine more, including the one in Kansas. The designation will provide funding essential to developing programs to showcase the pre-Civil War battle between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in Kansas.
Other important parts of the area's history, such as Underground Railroad sites and the influence of Native Americans and Haskell Institute, also would be explored. The goal of the heritage areas is to tie together locations and events to give a broader understanding of issues that affected our nation's history.
Many local people worked many hours over a period of several years to put together the extensive application required for eastern Kansas to be considered for National Heritage Area status. It now looks as if their efforts will pay off and provide great benefits for Lawrence and much of eastern Kansas. Much work lies ahead, but passing the federal hurdle certainly will be cause for celebration.