Travel Through a Story: U.S. National Heritage Areas

Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor Commission Page header photo on Facebook

Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor Commission photo includes their famous locally-made baskets (courtesy the Commission Facebook Page)

If you like to dive deep into history and culture as a part of the travel experience, then there is program that may be perfect for you – the U.S. National Heritage Areas and Corridors.

There are 49 different Heritage Areas across the country, although most are clustered in the eastern half of the United States.

They are not parks, although the U.S. National Park Service does play a significant advisory role in administering them. Each is run by either state governments, or non-profits, or private corporations.

The first one was designated in 1984 – the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Area. The Areas each highlight a combination of local history, culture, natural resources, conservation efforts, recreation, and sustainable economic development.

It’s so easy to travel through a region and not even realize how many interesting things there are to see around you. I’m not sure why this Heritage Area program is not better known, but here are a few of them to hopefully inspire your travel planning….

Silos and Smokestacks (Iowa)

I’ve always liked the title of this Heritage Area – Silos and Smokestacks – that helps us understand those corn and soybean fields that we drive through, but perhaps don’t really appreciate.

“The heritage of America’s agricultural revolution still exists but it needs preservation and interpretation. American agriculture is one of the primary sources of this country’s wealth and world leadership. Our challenge is to convey the breadth and scope of this story in a compelling, meaningful way.”

There are plenty of travel ideas and itineraries, including farms, wineries, art galleries, scenic drives, local fairs, historic sites, museums, parks/nature centers, even things that tractor fanatics might enjoy.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground (MD, PA, VA, WV)

This is an ambitious multi-state non-profit program that attempts to capture American history between Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to the north all the way down to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.

This encompasses both the American Revolution and the American Civil War, of course, so there is a LOT to discover. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground itineraries include African-American heritage, U.S. Presidents, scenic loops, and places of tremendous natural beauty.

They call it “400 years on one tank of gas” but it would take me days, and a lot of tanks of gas, to see it all.

Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (FL, GA, NC, SC)

This is a BIG, long heritage corridor that also stretches across multiple states….

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Pender County, NC, to St. Johns County, FL, and extends 30 miles inland. It covers more than 12,000 square miles and 27 counties and includes coastal communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.”

We’ve posted in the past about the unique Gullah Geechee culture that sprang from slaves who were forcibly brought to this region from western and central Africa. Their food, music, customs, and language dialect were all preserved for centuries, because many of their communities were very isolated.

The challenge today is to help visitors appreciate what is left of the culture without overwhelming and destroying it.

Bonus! The Americana Music Triangle

This is not one of the designated Heritage Areas, but I really like the idea of exploring musical heritage across multiple states, from Nashville all the way down to New Orleans. A large part of it encompasses one of my favorite places, the Mississippi Delta.

The Americana Music Triangle driving routes and exploration suggestions are an attempt to answer the question, “How is it that here, in the tiny triangle between Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, nine distinct genres of music came to life?”

Screenshot of Americana Music Triangle map and driving tours

Website screenshot of the Americana Music Triangle map and driving tours.

I also talked about regional travel and tourism programs like these (along with some other “inside baseball” tourism industry topics) on a recent Passport Travel Marketing & PR podcast….

Regional Tourism – Passport Travel Marketing and PR Podcast Episode 12

Have you been to any of the National Heritage Areas or Corridors? Are there any on your bucket list? Let us know down in the comments!

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