U.S. Reps. made an announcement at the St. Augustine Lighthouse on Monday regarding legislation to create a National Heritage Area in Northeast Florida.

Northeast Florida Congressmen John Rutherford, Al Lawson, and Michael Waltz announced their introduction of H.R. 4542, the Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act, to designate portions of Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, and Flagler Counties as a National Heritage Area (NHA).

According to the National Park Service, National Heritage Areas are places where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes. 

Unlike national parks, the National Park Service says that National Heritage Areas are large lived-in landscapes that collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs. 

“St. Augustine and the entire First Coast is home to countless places of historical significance,” said Rutherford. “... Northeast Florida’s cultural heritage sites are deserving of this national recognition that will ensure they exist for future generations.”

 Through public-private partnerships, NHAs provide federal support for historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, and heritage tourism. NHAs provide a significant positive impact on the local economies in which they reside.

“Northeast Florida is filled with natural beauty, historical assets and countless resources we need to preserve,” said Waltz“Our area is one of the oldest, most historical areas in our country, so it’s important we protect and preserve these areas for visitors and residents."

A 2012 study by the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the National Park Service showed NHAs contribute nearly $13 billion annually to the national economy and support 148,000 jobs. There are 55 designated National Heritage Areas in 34 states across the country that support a diversity of conservation, recreation, education, and preservation activities.