Agencies kick off historic preservation drive

Officials from dozens of federal agencies gathered in Washington Wednesday to launch a drive to preserve more historic federal property.

Under the effort, called Preserve America, agencies will inventory their historic properties, better protect and manage those properties and promote tourism and other uses for their historic sites. Historic preservation activists hope the initiative will encourage federal, state and local governments and private organizations to work together on historic preservation and the promotion of tourism.

President Bush ordered agencies to participate in Preserve America in an executive order last month. First Lady Laura Bush announced the initiative at a National Association of Counties meeting in Washington on March 3.

"Preserve America will promote historic and cultural preservation and encourage greater public appreciation of our national treasures," the First Lady said.

About 100 officials from more than 40 agencies attended the kickoff meeting Wednesday, which was organized by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The council is a small federal agency charged with making sure that other federal agencies protect their historic assets.

Under the Preserve America order (Executive Order 13287), agencies must designate an official to oversee historic preservation efforts by June 30, 2003. By September 2004, each agency must develop an inventory of all of its historic assets, their condition and their potential for becoming tourism destinations. Then, every three years beginning in 2005, agencies will have to report on their historic preservation efforts to the advisory council and to the Interior Department.

The order also calls on agencies to cooperate with state and local governments, citizen groups and other federal agencies to promote "heritage tourism," or tourism involving historic sites and natural landmarks.

John Nau, head of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, promoted heritage tourism as head of the Texas Historical Commission under then-Gov. George W. Bush. Under Nau, the state encouraged communities to develop guides to federal, state, local and private landmarks in their areas that tourists could use to extend their trips beyond well-known destinations. Representatives of the various levels of government and local citizens worked together on the heritage tourism guides. Nau hopes to spread such cooperative efforts nationwide.

The 1966 National Historic Preservation Act has long required federal agencies to pay attention to historic preservation, but no comprehensive inventory or major cooperative efforts have previously been ordered.

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