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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation that would establish the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area in Southcentral Alaska today unanimously passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sponsor of the measure.

The bill would establish Alaska’s first National Heritage Area. Administered by the National Park Service, the National Heritage Area program provides grant funding to community organizations to undertake tourism and historic preservation projects in their designated areas. The National Park Service supports 40 National Heritage Areas in 28 states.

“The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm area draws tens of thousands of visitors from every corner of our nation and around the world. It includes two of the major terminals for summer cruise ship traffic to Southcentral Alaska. Our visitors know that the region offers breathtaking scenery but are unaware of the rich history of the area. The Heritage Area designation will provide the resources for the full story to be told by local residents who know these areas best,” said Murkowski.

The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area includes the communities of Cooper Landing, Girdwood, Hope, Seward and Whittier. Murkowski stressed that no land would enter federal control as a result of the Heritage Area designation and private property rights would not be affected. The Heritage Area designation would make the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm Corridor Communities Association eligible for up to $10 million in grant funding and technical assistance to interpret the unique natural, cultural and historic resources in the area.

In earlier estimony to the committee, Jim Richardson, president of the Cooper Landing-based Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm Corridor Communities Association, said: “This heritage area will give national recognition to a uniquely beautiful mountain corridor with cultural and historic significance. Six major routes of travel are channeled into Alaska through the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm area. Alaska Natives traveled trails from Prince William Sound. Captain Cook sought a northern route through the Turnagain Arm. Miners built trails to the pre-Klondike gold rush in Hope and Sunrise. The Iditarod National Historic Trail, the Seward All American Road, and the Alaska Railroad all start at Mile 0 in Seward.”

The legislation was endorsed by the Municipality of Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the Cities of Seward and Whittier and the Prince William Sound Economic Development District.