MGGA Opposes Big Sky Country National Heritage Area
The Big Sky Country National Heritage Area (BSCNHA) movement is a group of residents, businesses, nonprofits, and cultural organizations that want permanent, federal land designation of public and private property in Cascade and Chouteau counties. BSCNHA is claiming to promote economic development and preserving the history and heritage of Central Montana.
MGGA has been following this movement of a national heritage area for quite some time now. Meetings have been hosted for a few years with the intent to gain local support. MGGA learned that Montana Grain Growers Association was listed as a potential partner without our consent or knowledge.
National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. NHAs are similar to national parks in that they fall under the umbrella of the Department of Interior and the National Park Service. NHAs should be grassroots, community-driven approaches to heritage conservation and economic development, but we are not currently seeing a grass-roots approach or grass-roots support for proposed projects.
In most cases, National Heritage Areas primarily are composed of private land. However, MGGA opposes the fact they are managed or controlled by a private, unelected, unaccountable entity that could interfere with state and private property rights. MGGA also opposes proposed boundaries for areas and trail designations that can include federal, state, and private property without the approval of private property owners. In December of 2020, our members voted on a policy to be added to our Resolutions concerning heritage areas. These resolutions direct the efforts of the MGGA board and staff throughout the year. That policy states, “MGGA opposes congressional designations of Montana National Heritage Areas and any other designations limiting private property rights.”
The Montana Legislature proposed HB 554, which requires legislative approval of national heritage areas and historic trails in Montana. This bill allows for the Montana Legislature to provide a vote on behalf of the people of Montana for proposed designations within the state. It helps protect private property owners from undue harm as a result of a designation. Many members of our Board of Directors, including our President and Treasurer, testified multiple times, whether in person or via zoom, in support of HB 554 as it went through the legislative session. By combining efforts with other groups, we were pleased to see it pass through the Legislature and later signed by Governor Gianforte.
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