Preserving Virginia’s landmarks

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2009

One of my highest priorities in the Senate is to preserve Virginia’s abundant natural, historical, and cultural resources. In January, we took a big step toward this goal with the passage of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which included three pieces of legislation I introduced last year to protect the commonwealth’s large number of significant landmarks.

This important accomplishment consists of measures to reauthorize the Civil War Battlefields Preservation program for another five years, begin the process of recognizing the Northern Neck region as a National Heritage Area, and expand wilderness and scenic area tourism in Southwest Virginia.

Virginia is fortunate to have such an abundant supply of pristine lands steeped in history. Extending the Civil War Battlefields Preservation program will enable children to experience the same untouched landscapes of their ancestors and visit the places where so many sacrifices were made, by soldiers and civilians, alike.

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Since 1999, this national program has helped protect over 14,000 acres of endangered battlefields with 6,600 acres protected in the Old Dominion alone.

The unique Northern Neck region, containing the birthplaces of three presidents, plantation homes, and state parks, is an important part of both Virginia and our nation’s cultural history.

The legislation passed last month will direct the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability of establishing a Northern Neck National Heritage Area. I hope the completed study will put the Northern Neck on track to receive this designation, helping to preserve these historic landmarks and cultivate tourism.

The Virginia Ridge and Valley Act designates more than 10,000 acres of the Jefferson National Forest as National Scenic Areas and nearly 43,000 acres of the forest as Wilderness or Wilderness Study areas.

It will safeguard some of Virginia’s most pristine public lands and encourage ecotourism and outdoor recreational activities in Southwest Virginia. This bill will also create new Wilderness and National Scenic Areas and expand six existing Wilderness Areas in portions of Bland, Craig, Grayson, Giles, Lee, Montgomery and Smyth Counties within Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest.

These accomplishments build on legislation that I introduced with Senator John Warner that was signed into law this summer designating Virginia’s “Journey Through Hallowed Ground” region as a National Heritage Area, making it the one of 40 regions in America to receive this important designation.

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground region is home to some of the nation’s most notable and historic landmarks, including Monticello, Montpelier and Manassas here in Virginia. This area encompasses eight presidential homes or sites, 15 national historic landmarks, 47 historic districts and the largest collection of Revolutionary war sites and Civil War battlefields in the nation.

I encourage all Virginians to explore the rich historical and natural sites right in their backyard. Virginia has much to offer to residents and tourists, alike. I look forward to continuing my efforts in the Senate to preserve the rich terrain across the Commonwealth.