The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport could soon have access to a new funding stream, thanks to the Maritime Washington National Heritage Act, a bill drafted by congressmen Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, both Washington Democrats.
The congressmen announced the bill June 30 at a Tacoma event and plan to formally introduce the measure sometime next week when Congress reconvenes.
“From fishermen to shipbuilders, the maritime economy has been central to our region for generations,” Kilmer said. “We take pride in how rich this history is. Traveling along our coast you’ll find unique stories about our tribal heritage, fishing economy and even our boundary disputes.”
The bill is geared toward helping Washington projects specifically by setting up a series of maritime heritage areas along the state’s coast.
Different agencies — cities, tribes, counties, etc. — would be able to apply for different locations to receive “maritime heritage area” status. The bill would also create the Pacific Northwest Maritime Heritage Advisory Council, which would largely be in charge of awarding federal grants.
“This is an honorary designation by Congress that exemplifies Washington’s maritime history,” said state Historic Preservation Officer Allyson Brooks.
Although the bill had to pass the National Parks Service’s muster, Brooks said citizens shouldn’t place the bill in the same category as the controversial Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The advisory council would have no oversight on maritime heritage areas, and wouldn’t be able to acquire land. It would only be there to award grants and designate maritime heritage areas.
“It’s a very different type of designation than what usually comes from the federal government,” Brooks said.
Funds allocated through the bill could be used to construct heritage centers, restore artifacts or host programs, Brooks said.
The bill could also help guide tourists to the state’s new maritime heritage areas, which would be located in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Island King Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson, Clallam and Grays Harbor counties. Information about the areas will be easily accessible and available in a central location.
Les Bolton, executive director of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, said he and other maritime history advocates have been pushing for this legislation for about a decade, and he’s excited about the possibility of sharing Grays Harbor’s history with visitors.
“If you look at Grays Harbor, we have incredible stories to tell, starting from the tribal canoe journeys, to the European settlers, to today,” Bolton said. “For example, at one point in time, Westport was the salmon fishing capitol of the world, and now it’s one of the top fishing towns in the country, and I think sometimes people forget that we have this rich maritime heritage.”
The historical seaport wouldn’t be the only agency that could benefit from the designation, Bolton said. The Polson Museum and the Aberdeen Museum could also be eligible.
He hopes maritime tourism will take off in Washington in the same way industrial tourism has become popular in Europe.
The Maritime Washington National Heritage Act still has a long way to go before it’s enacted. After Kilmer and Heck introduce the measure, it must be approved by a committee and passed by the House and Senate.
“I know it’s not effective yet, but I’m still excited,” Bolton said. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
Amelia Dickson: 360-537-3936 or firstname.lastname@example.org and @DW_Amelia on Twitter