The Sowams Heritage Area Project

National Heritage Areas:

National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are living, working landscapes that honor the important role of a region in our country’s development and celebrate its contribuions to American history and culture. Through dynamic public-private partnerships, NHAs provide a way to recognize, share, and conserve a region’s significant history and outstanding qualities.

National Heritage Areas preserve and revitalize cultural, historic, and natural resources, providing recreational and educational opportunities to residents and visitors. NHAs are part of the system of the National Park Service, but unlike national parks, they are community-based projects that protect and promote a region’s history, heritage, and culture and use those assets to advance local economies through tourism, recreation, and community development.

The Significance of the Sowams Region: Sowams, the homeland of the Pokanoket Tribal Nation and their leader, the Massasoit Ousamequin, is the setting for one of our nation’s origin stories, the critical alliance that established 50 years of peace between the Indigenous tribes that had farmed, fished, and hunted the region for millennia and the English settlers arriving on the Mayflower. Sowams is also ground zero for the fracturing of that alliance during King Philip’s War, a devastating conflict that ultimately encompassed Indigenous and colonial communities throughout New England.

At the heart of that conflict lay differing worldviews of law, land, and water. In Sowams, the legacy of those differences and the ways in which people have valued and used the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay has shaped the complex history of the region from prehistory to the present. The clash of Indigenous and European ideals first seen here would repeat itself across the continent and set a precedent for American relationships with Indigenous peoples that has endured up to present times.

National Heritage Areas Program Background:

The NHA program began during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, during which he supported NHAs as a cost-effective way to tell America’s stories and conserve places that are special to our nation’s history and culture. Today, there are 62 NHAs across the United States that foster economic development, heritage tourism, education, and community development without any form of federal government ownership, control, or management.

NHAs have a proven record of fostering job creation and advancing economic development based on heritage. In addition to creating jobs, NHAs generate valuable revenue for local governments and sustain communities through revitalization and heritage tourism. Importantly, NHAs have undergone rigorous independent evaluations by the National Park Service that document the program’s value to local economies. Through innovative public-private partnerships, NHAs have effectively leveraged federal resources, attracting an average of $5.50 of private funding for each dollar appropriated. In fact, the program has proven so successful that the number of NHAs that have been Congressionally authorized has nearly doubled in the last 15 years.

The Process of Becoming a National Heritage Area:

The Sowams region, the ancestral homeland of Ousamequin, includes Barrington, Bristol, East Providence, Providence, and Warren, RI, as well as Rehoboth, Seekonk, Somerset, and Swansea, MA. To become a National Heritage Area, a community must prove the cultural, historic and natural ecosystem form a cohesive, nationally significant landscape. As a part of the process, Congress requires the submission of a feasibility study, which assembles resource information, demonstrates community support, and provides justification for Congressional designation.

As our past is important, so is our future as a community and a region. National Heritage Areas celebrate our life today, creating positive dynamics in neighborhoods, towns, and in partnership with organizations and local governments. NHA work instills a sense of pride in community and a determination to invest in the future of the place where citizens live, work, and recreate.

What a National Heritage Area WILL DO:
• Share an important story in American history through multiple voices
• Create a framework for local stakeholders and partners to collaborate and better fulfill their missions
• Strengthen residents’ and visitors’ awareness of the Sowams region’s unique history and special sense of place
• Increase capacity for residents to steward their heritage resources and assets
• Provide federal funding appropriated annually by Congress, and matched locally, to support NHA
projects and programs

What a National Heritage Area WILL NOT DO:
• Will NOT add any new regulatory authority or restrictions on private lands
• Will NOT infringe on private property rights or require any resident or property owner to participate in any plan, project, or activity conducted by the NHA
• Will NOT add federal oversight over local management decisions

Economic Impact of National Heritage Areas
• More than 78% of all leisure travelers in the United States seek cultural and heritage experiences, and, on the whole, stay longer and spend more than other travelers.
• On average, NHAs have had a five-to-one return on investment, leveraging up to $10 million in federal monies to build $50 million in contributions from private sources, local and state government, and other federal sources.
• Nationally, NHAs contribute $12.9 billion annually to the U.S. economy and support 148,000 jobs.