Springfield State Journal Register

November 22, 2003

Rep. LaHood proposes federally designating area to honor Lincoln


WASHINGTON - Seeking to attract federal and tourism dollars, Rep. Ray LaHood is proposing that Congress designate a large swath of central Illinois as the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.

A federal designation would add prestige and resources to a state-aided tourism effort currently under way called the "Looking for Lincoln" project. That initiative, established in 1998 as a state of Illinois Heritage Tourism Area, helps promote and preserve the legacy of Lincoln in an eight-county region in central Illinois.

A bill introduced by LaHood this week would expand that effort by designating 41 counties in the region as part of a national heritage area. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is expected to introduce a similar measure in the Senate.

"Abraham Lincoln means so much to the people of Illinois, and his story and his life are so woven into the fabric of our state, that it only makes sense to create a cohesive area that would help tell the life story of our country's greatest president," LaHood said.

All 19 House members from Illinois support the bill.

The federal designation would complement the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, which is expected to open next year, LaHood said.

It "will allow for the promotion of Lincoln's story beyond the walls of the presidential library or a few buildings in Springfield," the Peoria Republican said.

Designation of a heritage area also would help Illinois communities with ties to Lincoln prepare for his 200th birthday celebration in 2009, he said. LaHood and Durbin co-chair the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission established by Congress to come up with ways to commemorate that anniversary.

In addition to Springfield-area Lincoln sites, the national historic area would include such significant Lincoln sites as New Salem State Historic Site, courthouses in Mount Pulaski, Lincoln, Beardstown and Metamora, the Vandalia Statehouse, the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum in Charleston and others.

LaHood said he's been working closely with Nicky Stratton, director of the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition, on the proposal.

If approved, Stratton said the federal designation would provide additional resources to help local communities tell their Lincoln stories.

"There are a lot of advantages. One of them is just the prestige," Stratton said. "It probably also would help us attract private funding."

The bill would authorize $10 million in federal funding for the project with a limit of $1 million a year. Congress would have to separately approve annual appropriations. Any federal funding would have to be equally matched by state, local or private funding.

The existing Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition would manage the national historic area. The coalition would help promote economic, preservation, educational and historical aspects of the historic area.

"There's a tremendously rich Lincoln history in central Illinois, and it's our job to get into those communities ... and try to find ways to help them tell it more effectively," Stratton said.

LaHood said he's assured that the bill will get a hearing when Congress returns next year. He said he's attempted to address the concerns of the House Resources Committee, which has advocated standardizing the process for designation of national heritage areas.

The bill specifically protects private-property rights, doesn't require the participation of any individual or entity and doesn't grant land-use powers to the coalition that would manage the historic area, LaHood said.

Currently, there are 23 national historic areas, including the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor near LaSalle.

The funding would come through the National Park Service, which has taken no position on LaHood's bill, a spokesman said Friday.