Washington — A proposed national heritage area in eastern Kansas would highlight violent events that led to the Civil War, a supporter told members of Congress Tuesday.
A National Park Service official, however, urged lawmakers to defer legislation authorizing any additional national heritage sites until Congress establishes a uniform system of guidelines for deciding what areas are nationally significant.
Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Kansas Republicans, introduced legislation earlier this year to designate the Bleeding Kansas and Enduring Struggle for Freedom National Heritage Area, which would include 24 counties in eastern Kansas.
The designation would bring in money and other resources from the National Park Service to create historic markers, signs, brochures and museums. Heritage areas also can qualify for up to $1 million per year in federal funds for up to 10 years.
Bleeding Kansas mainly refers to 1854 to 1861, when pro- and anti-slavery forces in the area erupted in violence.
"Events in Kansas were significant to the evolving story of American freedom," Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, told a congressional subcommittee Tuesday.
The violence followed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed a popular vote to determine if Kansas would be added as a free state or slave state. The vote drew adherents of both sides to the area. The Civil War started three months after Kansas was admitted as a free state.
Janet Snyder Matthews, associate director for cultural resources at the National Park Service, told lawmakers the proposed area in Kansas is historically unique and meets the criteria for designation, but she said comprehensive legislation is needed before allowing more heritage area sites to be selected.
Congress has designated 27 national heritage areas around the country since 1984, but the National Park Service is concerned that too many areas could lessen the meaning of the designation, said Sue Pridemore, a heritage area partnership coordinator with the National Park Service in Omaha, Neb.
After testifying, Billings said she remains hopeful the bill approving a heritage area in Kansas will pass, especially with strong support from the state's congressional delegation.
"The case I'm trying to make is we have followed all the guidelines," she said.
A group of Kansas historians and tourism officials has worked for several years to pass legislation approving the Bleeding Kansas heritage area.