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Celebrating the Northwest's floating world

Maritime advocates are looking to have Congress declare most of Washington's coastline, including Puget Sound, a National Heritage Area. It could be a boon for tourism, preservation, and the marine industry itself.
The schooner <i>Wawona</i> was on the endangered list, but was demolished.

The schooner Wawona was on the endangered list, but was demolished. Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons

There's a proposal making the rounds to designate a large chunk of Washington's coastline a National Maritime Heritage Area. Such an area would require an act of Congress.

The proposed Heritage zone would extend up Washington's Pacific coast from Gray's Harbor and include the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands. It would run south from the Canadian border to the southern tip of Puget Sound. In Seattle, it would encompass Salmon Bay, the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Lake Union. It would extend 1/4 mile inland, and could include other nearby designated sites.

The main idea is to provide a way to recognize Washington's maritime history and industry, from Coast Salish cedar canoes to old lighthouses, from World War II shipyards to houseboat communities. A Heritage Area designation allows locals to coordinate ways to recognize and protect local historic sites and structures, promote tourism, and develop a narrative that ties-in life today. It also views cultural heritage to be seen broadly, connected to living, inhabited, and industrious contemporary landscapes. A Heritage Area is no wilderness National Park, though the Park Service does provide technical assistance.

National Heritage Areas have proven popular, mostly in the eastern U.S, and the idea is spreading. According to a presentation by the state's Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, there are 49 such areas in the U.S., with nine of those designated just this year. The largest Heritage Area is the entire state of Tennessee, recognized for its Civil War era history. There has also been interest in creating a Heritage Area along the Columbia River, inspired in part by the recent Lewis and Clark expedition's bicentennial.

Washington's would not be the first to focus on an industry. Surrounding Dayton, Ohio is the National Aviation Heritage Area, home of the Wright Brothers, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and the Aviation Hall of Fame. In Michigan, there's the Motor Cities National Heritage Area which focuses on the U.S. auto industry (which is almost history) connecting factories, museums, and sites in Detroit, Lansing and Flint.

Washington's maritime heritage, past and present, is significant, but an official Congressionally-approved Heritage Area might give widespread locales a reason to coordinate efforts and find strength in developing interpretive centers and signage that tell the story of our relationship with the sea. In effect, a Heritage Area allows a kind of re-branding that can attract "cultural tourists" who want to learn something on their travels (they also tend to stay longer and spend more than other tourists). We may not have Europe's ancient cathedrals to offer sightseers, but we do have working and historic waterfronts. Maritime Heritage includes, but is bigger, than sailing ship replicas and historic tugboats.

One example of a creative packaging of maritime history is in Richmond, California, home of the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park. While not a Heritage Area (it's run by the Park Service) it's an example of what can be done to revitalize old shipyards and warehouses into a compelling story of life and work on the home front during World War II. It hosts a festival dedicated to the wartime contributions of civilians, and you can also see where Rosie lived, worked and visit the ships she built, like the surviving "Victory Ship" SS Red Oak. With so much to compete with in the Bay Area, it's hard to imagine a city like Richmond finding a way to make itself attractive to visitors, but it's been done.

A Heritage Area designation could also give some aid to preservationists who are fighting ongoing battles to save waterfront history. The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation's annual endangered list has included maritime structures consistently in recent years.

The 2009 most-endangered list worries about the historic structures at Seattle's redeveloping Sand Point, once home of a Naval Air station. In 2008, Bellingham's Old Granary building, threatened with demolition by the Port of Bellingham, was listed and is on the current "Watch" list. Also listed last year were Gig Harbor's waterfront fishing net sheds and Tacoma's Murray Morgan Bridge, which is also on the "Watch" list. And Seattle's Wawona sailing ship was listed in '05, but nevertheless demolished just this year.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jun 24, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

This is a great idea. All it takes is one visit down to Lake Union Park to see the depth and breadth of maritime history in Seattle. The Historic Ships Wharf is home to the steamer Virginia V, the tugboat Arthur Foss, the lightship Swiftsure, the fireboat Duwamish, and a rotating bunch of visiting vessels. Plus The Center for Wooden Boats and the future NW Native Canoe Center are living land and water museums of maritime heritage.

Once Lake Union Park is complete in just over a year, the Lake Union History Trail will also feature maritime stories, as will the Museum of History and Industry when they move into the park's historic Naval Reserve Building in a couple years.

You can see the plans for the park (and a virtual tour) at www.seattleparksfoundation.org/project_LakeUnion.html

Posted Wed, Jun 24, 5:28 p.m. Inappropriate

As much as I love the idea of Washington's shorelines becoming National Maritime Heritage Areas, I don't see how this can possibly be anything more than a mere "look, but don't touch" verbal designation given that 10s of thousands of miles of shorelines are privately owned and totally inaccessible to citizens. This is not the case in Oregon, or even in California.

Mud Baby

Posted Wed, Jun 24, 8:23 p.m. Inappropriate

While I think I understand the attractions, I can't help but wonder about whether this new interest in Heritage Areas will really accomplish much. I hadn't heard of the Columbia River one, but the Mountains to Sound Greenway wants to designate the whole I-90 corridor, including the entire city of Seattle. I'm not quite sure what the heritage is there, but it seems like designating everything could effectively mean designating nothing.

Let's not forget that each one of these Areas requires designation by Congress. Nothing moves easily through Congress. Perhaps it's the selfish tree hugger in me talking, but I'd rather see our lawmakers' efforts and Congressional public lands committees' time spent on smaller but hopefully more consequential things like Wilderness designations. Heritage Areas strike me as broad brush, feel good efforts that often do little more than put a name on something. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But there could very well be substantial opportunity costs in Congressional time and efforts not spent on doing things that could make a lot more difference on the ground.

Posted Wed, Jun 24, 10:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Indeed, Mud Baby. Thank the 1889-1890 legislature for that.

http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/pugetsound/tour/public_shore.html

They may not let you pump your own gas there, but Oregon got this one right:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Beach_Bill

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