PRESTON – For the fifth time in almost two decades, members of the Bear River Heritage Area are asking Congress for a national designation and are hoping this will be the year it becomes official.
“When you have an entity that’s supported nationally, you are going to have funding,” according to BRHA Coordinator Lisa Goede. “With that funding, you can help build your community, encourage more economic development and heritage tourism, which is what we’re mostly about.”
The BRHA has been seeking national recognition since it was created in 2000. Among other things, it was established to preserve, promote and enhance historical places.
In Cache County, some of those historical places include the American West Heritage Center and the Historic Cache County Courthouse.
The BRHA hosted a discovery day on Monday at the Larsen-Sant Library in Preston, to share the organization’s mission and goals with state and local leaders as well as members of the community.
The organization covers seven counties – Cache, Box Elder and Rich in northern Utah; and, Bear Lake, Caribou, Franklin and Oneida in southeastern Idaho.
Representatives from the offices of several Idaho state lawmakers, along with county commissioners from Cache and Bear Lake counties, attended the event.
“We are visiting every city council and every town council meeting with all the committee members to make sure everyone understands what a national designation means and how it can benefit a community,” said Goede.
The benefits, according to Goede, clearly come in the form of dollars to a community. The designation also helps BRHA obtain grants to aid heritage groups in preserving and promoting historic sites.
Brian Carver, Bear River Area of Governments Economic Development Director, said tens of millions of dollars flow into the area every year as a result of heritage tourism and they would like to see that grow.
“We get a lot of international tourists passing through on their way to Yellowstone, Jackson Hole and other locations,” said Carver. “We would like to see those people come to our area more, stay longer and spend a few extra dollars here. The additional money and grants that come with a national designation will help in that effort,” he stated.
Bear Lake County Commissioner Vaughn Rasmussen came to the meeting with some skepticism. When federal dollars are involved, he said there are always strings attached.
“Bear Lake County isn’t against it,” he said. “We just want some questions answered.”
“They need to be able to see the language of the bill and we are inviting them to write it to their specification so everyone’s happy with everything,” said Goede, who attempted to ease Rasmussen’s concerns.
Private and or public property owners are not obligated to participate in any plan, project, or program of the heritage area. They can decide not to apply for grants, or participate in projects, she stated.
Goede said it’s been difficult to get the designation for BRHA because Utah and Idaho lawmakers have not always been on the same page. However, she is optimistic this time. Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah 1st District), who has not been supportive in the past, is now on board, she said.
Goede said she is visiting all seven counties and talking with as many lawmakers as she can in an effort to garner support in both Idaho and Utah. The hope is that Congress will approve the national designation before the end of the year.
Utah already has two national heritage areas – the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area in central and southern Utah, and the Great Basin National Heritage Area on the Utah/Nevada border.