Preserve America Grants: Assessment of Effectiveness

June 01, 2009

Executive Summary

Since 2006, Preserve America Grants to states, tribes, and local governments have been funded at $5 - $7.3 million annually. The competitive grants, ranging from $20,000 to $250,000 with a required one-to-one match, support planning, development, implementation, or enhancement of innovative activities and programs in heritage tourism. (Heritage tourism is the business and practice of attracting and accommodating visitors to a place or area based on the unique or special aspects of that locale’s history, landscape, and culture.) Eligible grant activities include research and documentation, planning, interpretation/education, promotion, and training. Successful projects involve public-private partnerships and serve as models to communities nationwide for heritage tourism, historic preservation, education, and economic development.

Congress recently recognized the value of the grants program in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-11), which permanently authorizes the grants at $25 million annually.

In the FY 2009 omnibus appropriations, however, the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations did not include funding for this program. The committees stated that “future funding for the Preserve America program should be deferred pending a full evaluation of the effectiveness of the program in meeting national heritage tourism needs.” In response, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has prepared this preliminary assessment of the Preserve America Grants program, in 3 cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Department of the Interior, and with the assistance of the Heritage Tourism Program, National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP).

This examination concludes that Preserve America Grants:

  • Address a broad range of heritage tourism and related heritage development, heritage education, and historic preservation needs that are unmet by other federal assistance programs.
  • Are helping to support economic development and employment, and stimulating other local economic activity.
  • Provide scarce and valuable seed money to leverage other investment and in-kind support for heritage tourism.
  • Encourage youth education initiatives that will help build future appreciation for history and culture among young people.
  • Offer opportunities to highlight all aspects of America’s diverse history and cultural heritage.
  • Assist with heritage tourism projects in rural and urban environments, in small towns, counties, and large cities, throughout the country.
  • Provide necessary support for heritage tourism activities in both established centers for cultural heritage tourism and in potentially new regional heritage tourism destinations.
  • Engage and encourage coalitions of elected officials, local governmental entities, business, components of the tourism and preservation communities, and non-governmental organizations in broad partnerships to achieve community and regional heritage tourism goals.
  • Stimulate the creation and development of model, innovative programs and projects of all types and at all scales—regional, state, and local.
  • Expand upon and complement other public-private program investments, such as Save America’s Treasures.
  • Appropriately respond to the past findings, industry interests, and identified practical steps related to heritage tourism development.
  • Provide heritage tourism synergy with nearby national parks and National Heritage Areas.
  • Support identified state, tribal, and local priorities and needs through grassroots efforts.

The evaluation indicates that the program is being effective, despite its short history and relatively small federal investment. The most striking conclusion to be drawn is the degree of impact these grants have in relation to their size. In addition to leveraging the required one-to-one match, the Preserve America Grants have shown time and again that they generate local enthusiasm for the contemporary use of community heritage, in both the citizens and their governments.

Preserve America Grants have a unique niche in the national historic preservation program. Concerns voiced early about redundancy have proven false, as the actual use of the grants has become evident. These grants provide invaluable seed money to develop sustainable preservation strategies, money that is unavailable from any other federal source.

As with other elements of the national historic preservation program, it will be desirable over the long run to develop more detailed performance measures. The ACHP will work with NPS to develop and implement more specific measures of performance for the Preserve America Grants in the near future. Additional guidance should also be offered to grant applicants and grant recipients regarding standards and best practices in heritage tourism, including examples of successful Preserve America Grant projects that have been completed. A summary of funded grant projects listed by state is available . . . [is] attached as Appendix E.