PORT TOWNSEND — The Maritime Washington National Heritage Area Act will bring more economic opportunity to Western Washington, according to U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer who hosted a roundtable of area leaders in Port Townsend.
Some 16 representatives from local government, nonprofits and the maritime sector joined Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, to learn more about the legislation which creates the first National Heritage Area established in the Pacific Northwest and includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
Those at the roundtable also spoke of working toward basing the program in Port Townsend.
“The key is to work together with state Historic Preservation,” said City Manager David Timmons. “We would like to see the administration of this program be based in Port Townsend, and we’ve been working hard on that.
“The Washington Trust for Preservation Preservation actually got started at Fort Worden, then it moved to Seattle.
“We’ve also been working with some donors and they are willing to help fund the new location to get it established. It just seems like a natural to base the program here.”
The Maritime Washington National Heritage Area Act was introduced by Kilmer and co-sponsored by Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat from Olympia who represents the state’s new 10th Congressional District.
It was included as part of the Natural Resources Management Act that is awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature.
Lighthouses, historic vessels, parks and landmarks located within one-quarter mile of the shoreline in 13 counties are part of the new heritage area which encompasses Jefferson, Clallam, Grays Harbor, Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, San Juan, Island, King, Pierce, Thurston, Mason and Kitsap counties.
It also includes 19 Native American tribes, 32 cities and 30 port districts.
The designation comes with a $1 million per year appropriation for 10 years and will be administered by the state Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.
“The impetus for putting the maritime heritage designation together was really geared toward economic opportunity,” Kilmer said after the meeting.
“This is a winner in terms of jobs, tourism, and our existing maritime assets,” Kilmer said. “This is a winner in terms of trying to preserve our maritime heritage and celebrate it. It’s just not a backward-looking thing, but something that is a forward-looking opportunity.”
He said those around the roundtable will be able to take full advantage of this designation, to the benefit of Port Townsend and the region.
“Dave Robison, executive director of Fort Worden PDA (Public Development Authority) has been working on a heritage designation for 15 years,” Kilmer said. “The state Office of Historic Preservation has been working on it for 10 years. I’ve been working on it for five years.”
Kilmer said these designations come with opportunities to apply for other resources from the federal government.
“We’ve seen other heritage areas apply for philanthropic resources and private resources. Money is part of it, and the opportunity to leverage the designation for resources is a big part of it.”
He said other regions coordinate everything from highway signage to website design to tourism materials to festivals.
Kilmer gives Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, “a ton of credit.”
“This legislation included over 100 bills dealing with public lands. And it got massive bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.
“We had this standalone component in this massive bill that among other things, permanently reauthorized the land and water conservation fund, which is also incredibly important to this region in terms of protecting working forests and public lands and investing in trails and parks”
Robison said that he has toured the Northeast and its maritime tourism.
“You work your way through the road map from St. Michaels in Chesapeake Bay to Mystic to Newport,” Robison said. “There’s all these little gems of maritime museums and working boat yards. It’s fascinating.
“We wrote a grant in 2004 to the National Parks Service to create a heritage plan for this area,” he said, adding that the grant included the Jefferson County Historical Society, the Port of Port Townsend, the city of Port Townsend, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, the Northwest Maritime Center and Sound Experience, which owns the schooner Adventuress.
“Here it is 15 years later,” Robison said.
”The reason for doing that was to really help brand this place for maritime education and maritime trades and heritage-based tourism.”
Jake Beattie, executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center, said that the region is truly unique and should be promoted as such.
“From a public perception, we haven’t yet as a region articulated the very unique Pacific Northwest from here to Alaska culture that exists through our fisheries and our very vibrant marine trades,” Beattie said.
“Part of what the Northwest Maritime Center tries to do is articulate that in different ways. How do we coalesce this culture we have? Mystic Seaport wouldn’t work here because that’s not who we are.”
Among the agencies also represented at the roundtable were Jefferson County government, Port of Port Townsend, Port Townsend Marine Trades Association, EDC Team Jefferson, Jefferson County Historical Society, Port Townsend Maritime Academy, Sound Experience, Port Townsend Marine Science Center, and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].