Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway

Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway

            In March 2012, Rep. Petri introduced the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway National Heritage Area Act of 2012 (H.R. 4148).

What would it do?
            The bill would recognize the Fox-Wisconsin region as an area of national cultural and historical significance.  This recognition is designed to aid tourism and local educational efforts.  Roads are sometimes called 'parkways,' but this is not a road, nor is it a park.  It is simply an area receiving special recognition.

Why is this being proposed?
            The local communities along the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, state legislators from both political parties, businesses, educators and interested citizens have been working together to preserve and promote the heritage of this corridor since at least 1989.  Recently, they asked Rep. Petri for help in getting the corridor recognized as a National Heritage Area (NHA). 

            H.R. 4148 would establish a National Heritage Area along the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers -- see for more information.  An NHA designation does not create a national park nor does it turn any land over to the federal government.  In fact, this bill would not give any entity -- local, state or federal -- any additional power to regulate land use or employ eminent domain.

            In essence, the boundaries of an NHA have no regulatory effect -- they simply delineate an area that has been officially recognized by Congress as having great cultural and historical significance.  The intent of such a designation is to highlight the importance of a region to our nation's history and to recognize local efforts to preserve and promote the heritage of that region.

            Since this is simply a designation which can help the local economy at no cost - or very little cost - to the taxpayers, Rep. Petri agreed to work with them.  There are 49 designated heritage areas around the country, and they seem to be wholly positive for their local areas.

Are property rights impacted?
            Rep. Petri understands the importance of ensuring that private property owners are protected and has worked to ensure that nothing in this legislation could be used to abridge the rights of any private property owner.  Specifically, the bill says the following:


Nothing in this Act--

(1) abridges the rights of any public or private property owner, including the right to refrain from participating in any plan, project, program, or activity conducted within the Heritage Area;

(2) requires any property owner--

(A) to permit public access (including access by Federal, State, tribal, or local agencies) to the property of the property owner; or

(B) to modify public access or use of property of the property owner under any other Federal, State, or local law;

(3) alters any duly adopted land use regulation, approved land use plan, or other regulatory authority of any Federal, State, or local agency;

(4) conveys any land use or other regulatory authority to the local coordinating entity;

(5) authorizes or implies the reservation or appropriation of water or water rights;

(6) diminishes the authority of the State to manage fish and wildlife, including the regulation of fishing and hunting within the Heritage Area; or

(7) creates any liability, or affects any liability under any other law (including regulations), of any private property owner with respect to any individual injured on the private property.


(c) Prohibition on the Acquisition of Real Property- The local coordinating entity shall not use Federal funds made available through the Heritage Partnership Program to acquire real property or any interest in real property.

            The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has also researched this question of whether heritage areas have had any adverse consequences for property owners.  The GAO studied the 24 heritage areas that existed between 1984 and March 2004 and found the following:

"Despite concerns about private property rights, officials at the 24 heritage areas, Park Service headquarters and regional staff working with these areas, and representatives of six national property rights groups that we contacted were unable to provide us with a single example of a heritage area directly affecting – positively or negatively – property values or use."

             Some have expressed concern that even if this bill does not give any entities -- local, state or federal -- any additional power to regulate land use, the legislation could influence local governments to move in a certain direction with respect to land use decisions.  However, it is important to note that the local communities along the Fox and Wisconsin rivers have already been working together for at least two decades to help preserve the heritage of the Fox-Wisconsin corridor -- long before this legislation was ever conceived -- and those same local communities would still be in the driver's seat if this bill were passed.

            It was only recently that many in those communities -- representatives from local and state government from both political parties, businesses, and civic groups -- came to Rep. Petri to ask if he would sponsor legislation that would provide congressional recognition of the historical significance of the corridor -- not as a way to grant any additional powers to the National Park Service or state or local authorities -- but simply as a way to help them promote heritage-related tourism.

            Some have expressed concern that some of the maps showing the boundaries of the proposed Fox-Wisconsin heritage area include indications of endangered species areas, wildlife areas and refuges, and other areas such as the Ice Age Trail.  Designating a heritage area confers no power to create new endangered species areas or any of other type of land use designation -- again, it is simply a recognition by Congress of the historical significance of an area.  Maps shown to Rep. Petri showing the proposed boundaries of the heritage area do often show these things, but they are maps of the status quo -- that is, they show how the land is currently designated.

If I'm still concerned about my property rights, could I opt-out of the heritage area if this bill were to pass?

            Yes.  The Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 (P.L. 111-88) included a provision to give private property owners the option to opt-out of a heritage area.  The provision says the following:


SEC. 127. Any owner of private property within an existing or new National Heritage Area may opt out of participating in any plan, project, program, or activity conducted within the National Heritage Area if the property owner provides written notice to the local coordinating entity.

Where can I find out more about the history of this initiative?

            The efforts of the communities along the Fox and Wisconsin rivers to preserve the heritage of their region were inspired by Assembly Speaker (at the time) David Prosser.  His idea was to use the transfer of the Fox locks from the federal government to the state as an opportunity to preserve the heritage of the Fox-Wisconsin corridor.

            Rep. Petri worked with then-State Rep. Prosser and the affected communities more than twenty years ago to transfer significant amounts of federal land in the Fox-Wisconsin corridor -- as well as federally-managed locks, canals, and dams associated with that land -- back to state and local control so that the heritage of that region could be preserved through local efforts.  The local communities along the rivers have worked closely with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and the Wisconsin State Historical Society as part of this effort.

            From 2006 through 2009, a feasibility study was conducted by these communities to determine if it would be worthwhile to seek National Heritage Area (NHA) status for the Fox-Wisconsin corridor.  Additionally, at least 70-80 public meetings were held from 2008 through 2012 in areas that would be in the proposed NHA.  It was determined that having such a designation would bring significant benefits to the region, so representatives involved in these efforts -- including state legislators from both political parties -- approached Rep. Petri and others in the delegation to ask if they would sponsor NHA legislation to provide congressional recognition of the heritage of the area.  As mentioned above, because this is simply a designation which can help the local economy at no cost - or very little cost - to the taxpayers, Rep. Petri agreed to work with them.

            More information about the history of Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway is available at


Here is information from the National Park Service on Heritage Areas:

What are National Heritage Areas?

National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. Through their resources, NHAs tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation's diverse heritage. NHAs are lived-in landscapes. Consequently, NHA entities collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.

NHAs are a grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development. Through public-private partnerships, NHA entities support historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects. Leveraging funds and long-term support for projects, NHA partnerships foster pride of place and an enduring stewardship ethic.

The National Heritage Area Program

NHAs further the mission of the National Park Service (NPS) by fostering community stewardship of our nation's heritage. The NHA program, which currently includes 49 heritage areas, is administered by NPS coordinators in Washington DC and seven regional offices - Anchorage, Seattle, Oakland, Denver, Omaha, Philadelphia and Atlanta - as well as park unit staff.

NHAs are not national park units. Rather, NPS partners with, provides technical assistance, and distributes matching federal funds from Congress to NHA entities. NPS does not assume ownership of land inside heritage areas or impose land use controls.


How do National Heritage Areas work?

National Heritage Areas (NHA) expand on traditional approaches to resource stewardship by supporting large-scale, community driven initiatives that connect local citizens to the preservation and planning process.

What is the role of the National Park Service?

The National Park Service (NPS) provides technical, planning and limited financial assistance to National Heritage Areas. The NPS is a partner and advisor, leaving decision-making authority in the hands of local people and organizations. The National Heritage Areas staff at NPS headquarters are available to help answer any questions about the program.

How is it different from a National Park?

A National Heritage Area is not a unit of the National Park Service, nor is any land owned or managed by the NPS. National Park Service involvement is always advisory in nature.

How does a region become a National Heritage Area?

National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress. Each National Heritage Area is governed by separate authorizing legislation and operates under provisions unique to its resources and desired goals. For an area to be considered for designation, certain key elements must be present. First and foremost, the landscape must have nationally distinctive natural, cultural, historic, and scenic resources that, when linked together, tell a unique story about our country. It is strongly recommended that a feasibility study be conducted prior to any designation attempt.

How do communities benefit from the National Heritage Area designation?

The designation has both tangible and intangible benefits. Heritage conservation efforts are grounded in a community's pride in its history and traditions, and in residents' interest and involvement in retaining and interpreting the landscape for future generations. It offers a collaborative approach to conservation that does not compromise traditional local control over and use of the landscape. Designation comes with limited financial and technical assistance from the National Park Service.

Why utilize the heritage areas strategy?

The heritage area concept offers an innovative method for citizens, in partnership with local, state, and Federal government, and nonprofit and private sector interests, to shape the long-term future of their communities. The partnership approach creates the opportunity for a diverse range of constituents to come together to voice a range of visions and perspectives. Partners collaborate to shape a plan and implement a strategy that focuses on the distinct qualities that make their region special.

What kinds of activities does a National Heritage Area offer to outside visitors?

National Heritage Areas appeal to all ages and interests. Some have opportunities for walking, hiking, biking and paddling. Some have festivals to attend and museums to visit. Many Areas provide volunteer opportunities, group tours, and multiple-day excursions and can also be visited in combination with over 80 units of the National Park Service.