I attended a meeting today at River Falls where the feasibility of having Congress declare the St. Croix River valley (the whole drainage basin in WI and MN) a National Heritage area.
The idea is, if the area has a unique historical heritage, and local groups (i.e. history societies) believe it is worth highlighting, they can work together to get this declaration. It is does not really mean the Federal govt doss anything except agree with the local groups who make the proposal.
What the local area gets out of it is an overall theme for guiding their local history efforts as well as publicity to encourage tourism and to encourage local business and organizations to co-operate in doing things related to this theme.
It seemed a worthwhile effort and I am likely to jump in and volunteer to work on the project. The next meeting in my area is in Polk County Saturday Feb 11th (not sure of time or place yet).
There are 48 heritage areas in the US right now--none nearby.