Cantwell, Murray Introduce Bill to Designate Mountains to Sound Greenway as National Heritage Area

Bill would help promote WA tourism and outdoor recreation economy; preserve scenic landscapes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) announced legislation that would designate Washington state’s Mountains to Sound Greenway – 1.5 million acres of land stretching along the Interstate 90 corridor from Seattle to Ellensburg – as a National Heritage Area to help preserve and promote its scenery, resources and history for future generations.

The “Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Act” would recognize a scenic byway and historic transportation corridor through 2,400 square miles that includes the Cascade peaks, wilderness lakes, and forests, and a network of roads, rails and trails. It includes farms and forests, historic sites, lakes, campgrounds, rivers, and wildlife habitat, and is home to 1.4 million residents in 28 cities and 1,600 miles of trails.

Cantwell and Murray’s bill (S. 2602) is a companion to legislation introduced by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA-08) in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013.  The Mountains to Sound National Heritage Area could become the first such designation in the Pacific Northwest. Congress has designated 49 National Heritage Areas nationwide to promote local economic growth and tourism, and preserve sites and landmarks with cultural and historical significance. 

“From the Yakima River Basin to the Puget Sound, this designation would help boost tourism to some of Washington state’s most scenic and historic landscapes,” Cantwell said. “Washington’s natural wonders improve our quality of life and drive an outdoor economy that supports 200,000 jobs. I am proud to work with Senator Murray, Rep. Reichert, and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to establish this National Heritage Area and build on nearly two decades of efforts to preserve our state’s natural landscape for future generations.”

“The designation of this Heritage Area will honor the tremendous natural beauty of the Mountains to Sound Greenway, and I’m proud to join Senator Cantwell in introducing this important legislation,” Murray said.  “This bill will promote cooperation and economic development from Ellensburg to Seattle and communities in between along the Greenway, so that all can appreciate the diverse and unique resources and quality of life we enjoy in Washington state.”

National Heritage Areas are Congressional-designated partnerships between the National Park Service, states, and local communities through which the Park Service supports local and state efforts to preserve natural resources and promote tourism. National Heritage Areas are not part of the National Park System. No federal regulations are imposed, and no private land is affected or acquired.

“The natural wealth and beauty of the Greenway represents a truly unique national gem and I’m pleased and honored that Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray have joined me in this worthy effort to protect such an integral part of our nation’s heritage, nestled in the heart of Washington State,” Reichert said. “The Mountains to Sound Greenway has played a vital role in many of our nation’s most important industries: from timber and recreation, to technology and Aerospace.  It is central to the Pacific Northwest’s history and through that America’s history, and with passage of this legislation we can ensure that the Greenway remains preserved for our children and grandchildren.”

Since 1991, the nonprofit Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust has worked to preserve the area’s scenic landscapes for recreation, education and conservation. More than 900,000 acres of land now are publicly-owned, including parks and forests such as Tiger Mountain, Snoqualmie Pass and Mount Si.

“We thank Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray for being champions of this legislation in the U.S. Senate,” said Cynthia Welti, Executive Director of the Greenway Trust. “The designation of the Mountains to Sound Greenway as a National Heritage Area is a wonderful recognition of the 20-plus years of conservation work that created the Greenway and an important step toward helping conserve it for future generations.”

Heritage Area designations are eligible for federal grants, and can help draw financial contributions from state, local and private sources. A recent economic impact study indicates National Heritage Areas contribute $12.9 billion annually to the national economy and support 148,000 jobs, according to the Park Service. On average, Heritage Areas generate about $263 million in economic activity and support about 3,000 jobs, primarily through tourism and visitor spending.

Other National Heritage Areas nationwide include: the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area in Springfield, Illinois; the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and the Baltimore National Heritage Area in Baltimore, Maryland.

Heritage Area designations also help coordinate marketing and tourism promotion, such as developing websites, putting up highway signs to advertise sites, sponsoring festivals, and publishing brochures and tour maps. Heritage Areas also can help with assisting in the operation of museums and visitor centers.

“We are fortunate that Washington is one of the best states in the country for outdoor recreation. The Mountains to Sound Greenway is a treasure enjoyed by many of our 508,000 active REI members in the state,” said Jerry Stritzke, REI’s president and CEO.  “We commend Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray for their leadership to sustain the Greenway’s 1.5 million acres as a National Heritage Area for every generation to enjoy.  We look forward to working with Washington’s Congressional delegation on the passage of this important bipartisan proposal.”

Last week, Cantwell and Murray introduced the “Maritime Washington National Heritage Area Act,” which would establish a National Heritage Area covering most of Western Washington’s saltwater shoreline. It would help promote maritime-related tourism, economic development and maritime history as told through Washington state’s museums, historic ships, fishing culture and other activities. Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06) and Denny Heck (D-WA-10) sponsored a companion bill to that legislation in the House.