ABINGDON -- Crooked Road officials announced Thursday afternoon that the non-profit organization is dropping its pursuit of a National Heritage Area designation for Southwest Virginia due to growing opposition.
Crooked Road officials said the decision was made because the designation had become divisive and failed to unify “the entire region".
“The Crooked Road believes it can best serve the region in the role of a unifying entity,” Hinshelwood said. “Although a significant number of localities have supported it, the proposed Crooked Road National Heritage Area designation has not unified the entire region.”
Opposition to the designation has been growing in recent months after local Tea Party groups began expressing concerns about how property rights would be impacted if the NHA was approved by Congress.
Oppenents say the NHA designation would effectively put the counties involved under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service and Department of Interior.
Officials with the Crooked Road and backers of the NHA, which include U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), maintain the designation will have no impact on property rights and would only seek to further promote the region's musical and cultural history. The designation would also allow organizations and attractions within the NHA to receive federal funds for various projects from the U.S. Parks Service.
Griffith released a statement on the matter shortly after the Crooked Road made its decision, saying the designation was never meant to hamper property rights.
“I respect the organization’s decision to discontinue its efforts to seek a National Heritage Area designation," Griffith said. "It was never the intent to have any local jurisdiction placed into an NHA without its approval. No matter what you think about NHA, the Crooked Road has been and will continue to be a great asset to our area. It provides a good opportunity for folks to visit numerous sites that embrace our musical heritage across the district.
“As I have previously stated, I do not support any legislation that does not respect the private property rights of individuals.”
The Crooked Road had sought letters of support from boards of supervisors in each of the 19 counties it covers. In recent months however, several counties have passed resolutions opposing the Crooked Road's efforts.
Washington County, Va., along with Wythe and Russell counties, all recently passed resolutions in non-support of the Heritage Area.
Catherine Turner, a spokesperson for one of the "liberty groups" opposed to the NHA, said the Crooked Road's decision could be considered a victory property rights advocates.
Turner also criticized Griffith for failing to hold "private meetings with the same liberty groups to whom he pledged personal access" and making "the ambiguous claim to be a 'respecter of private property rights of individuals' "
"The NHA has been rigorously opposed by liberty groups throughout Southwest Virginia," Turner said. "The same organizations whose support was sought by Candidate Morgan Griffith in the historic 2010 congressional race."
Despite the decision, Hinshelwood said the organization still believes the designation would be beneficial to Southwest Virginia.
Hinshelwood also addressed opponents’ criticisms of the plan, calling into question the factual basis of their concerns.
“Critics of the designation have made numerous claims of adverse effects, most notably that Heritage Areas are a threat to property rights,” Hinshelwood said. “The Crooked Road diligently researched these claims and could not find a factual basis for them. The independent and well-respected Weldon Cooper Center researched these claims on behalf of local government and could not find a factual basis for them. We are not aware that critics of the designation have provided anyone with a factual basis for those claims either.”
Hinshelwood pointed to other, nearby Heritage Areas as evidence the designation would not adversely impact the rights of local property owners.
The most compelling evidence that Heritage Areas do indeed benefit communities can be found
simply by looking across the state line in three directions,” Hinshelwood said. “Local government leaders in North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia confirmed that their existing Heritage Areas have not impacted property rights in any way. Far from having adverse effects, these Heritage Areas are providing their regions with valuable support for cultural tourism and economic value through promotion of their cultural assets.”
Tennessee’s Civil War National Heritage Area was established by Congress in 1996.
Now that the Crooked Road is no longer pursuing a National Heritage Area, Hinshelwood said the organization would focus on various efforts like traditional music education programs, venue marketing, strengthening travel industry connections, and developing a branded Crooked Road radio program.