A heritage area is a geographic region in which residents, businesses, governments, and heritage-related nonprofit
organizations join together in broad-based, public-private partnerships to preserve, enhance, promote and celebrate
their historic, cultural, and natural resources. The Four Rivers Heritage Area, a 501 c 3 organization, is part of the
Maryland Heritage Areas Program and winner of the prestigious 2006 Preserve America Presidential Award for heritage
tourism. Funded primarily with operating and program assistance from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, Anne Arundel
County, and the City of Annapolis, Four Rivers develops and supports activities that combine tourism and small business
development with education, historic preservation, cultural and natural resource conservation, and recreation in a
strategic effort to enhance the community's economy and culture.
Different types of heritage areas exist or are under development across the country. The National Park Service
provides technical assistance to a growing number of
National Heritage Areas that require federal designation and involve resources and stories of
national significance. Maryland's Heritage Areas program is one of a handful of state heritage programs. A heritage
area may be designated by both federal and state programs, as is the case in some
Pennsylvania heritage areas. The
National Trust for Historic Preservation encourages
heritage tourism through its programs, including "Dozen Distinctive Destinations" to which Annapolis was
named in 2005, and its many publications on developing heritage tourism in communities. The Advisory Council on
Historic Preservation's Preserve America
program encourages heritage tourism and preservation activities, as well.
Created by legislation in 1996, the Maryland Heritage Areas Program has provided an exciting opportunity to
strengthen heritage tourism all over the state in a way that enhances quality of life by contributing to the local
economy, improving management of tourism activities and the visitor experience, and preserving and deepening
appreciation of the area's resources and traditions.
The Maryland Heritage Areas program currently consists of 11 certified heritage areas representing 18 counties and 62
municipalities across the state and is administered by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) through the
Maryland Historical Trust. Each state
heritage area develops a Management Plan which must be approved by the MHAA and by municipalities located with the
heritage area's borders. The Plan includes a proposed management entity, through which the program operates locally.
Once certified, the local management entity and all nonprofit heritage-related partners, as well as municipalities, are
eligible for MHAA grants through the state heritage area.
In addition to matching grants and loans from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, the benefits of inclusion within
the borders of the Four Rivers Heritage Area include:
- Technical assistance from the staffs of the Four Rivers Heritage Area and the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.
- State income tax credits for the rehabilitation of certified heritage structures, even if not located in a listed
historic district, including some non-historic structures.
- Broad program support from state government, including priority consideration for funding from many state
agencies. In addition, all state agencies must seek to avoid activities that are not consistent with the heritage
area Management Plan.
- Inclusion in heritage area interpretation, educational, marketing and promotional activities.