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Douglas County Board supports effort to recognize St. Croix heritage

Douglas County is throwing its support behind a proposal to create the St. Croix National Heritage Area.

The proposal would give national recognition to an 8,000-square-mile area that encompasses 17 counties in two states that share the St. Croix watershed.

The designation would take an act of Congress to achieve.

“The heritage initiative is a grass-roots effort that began in 2009,” said Jason Laumann of Northwest Regional Planning, the coordinating agency for the effort. “A group of citizens from around the basin started to explore opportunities for community development, economic development and historic preservation. One of the ideas and thoughts that came out of that discussion is a national heritage area.”

National heritage areas are places where cultural and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. Through those resources, the area tells a nationally important story that celebrates the nation’s diverse heritage.

The St. Croix National Heritage Area would recognize the native people and culture still alive in the region today. The fur trade and logging were key elements of the region’s history as well.

Administered by the National Park Service, the mission is to foster stewardship of the nation’s heritage.

There are  49 heritage areas in the United States, including the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area in northeastern Iowa and MotorCities in Michigan. They recognize things such as the Mississippi Delta and Gulf Coast, and the nation’s coal industry in West Virginia.

“Four years’ worth of work went into producing a feasibility study for a national heritage area,” Laumann said. That study, out for public comment until June 30, answers the questions of what it is and whether it’s feasible politically, socially and technically, he said.

Laumann said the region could get a little bit of federal money to help with the effort, but the real carrot is the 5-1 return on investment found in national heritage area studies. That money goes to communities for development projects.

“This is a good vehicle to help get money to these communities and help address some of those concerns, get projects on the ground without interfering with private property rights or placing any additional restrictions on people or governments or communities,” Laumann said. “… What we’re hoping to do is convince our congressional representatives here in Wisconsin, and Rep. (Sean) Duffy is the lead, to work in concert with the legislative representatives in the state of Minnesota and have that coalition enter a bill.”

If the designation is achieved, a plan would be developed on how to manage it, Laumann said.

County Board Supervisor Sue Hendrickson asked the board to consider amending a resolution in support of the proposal to come from the full board. The board approved the amendment Thursday before adopting the resolution in support of the designation that would include portions of southern Douglas County.  

The public still can weigh in on the feasibility study. For more information, go to