Southeast Joins ENC Counterparts in Seeking Heritage Status for U.S. Hwy. 17

The U.S. currently has 40 Congressionally designated National Heritage Areas -- places where natural, cultural and historic resources forge cohesive landscapes that are representative of the American experience. Two such areas now include parts of North Carolina: the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that stretches from Wilmington to Jacksonville, Fla., and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, a 25-county region in Western North Carolina established in 2003.

“The Highway 17 National Heritage Designation initiative is a project involving all three eastern economic development commissions,” explains Julie Bledsoe Thomas, a tourism development officer for the North Carolina Department of Commerce. “Our hopes are to base this designation on the backbone of the old Ocean Hi-way, Highway 17, and to include most counties east of I-95.”  The distinction would be based on Eastern North Carolina’s rich history, which dates to Colonial times and includes key maritime and military history attractions.  “The process begins with a feasibility study and hopefully ends with a Congressional designation,” says Ms. Thomas. State and regional leaders expect action by the federal government within four years.