Opposition is growing to a proposal to designate a huge area of land as the Upper Missouri River Heritage Area. Recently, the Fergus County Commission unanimously voted to be left out of the proposal being pushed by Cascade County Commissioner Jane Weber.
National Heritage Areas are designations connected to the National Parks Service. Though administered locally, and not by the NPS, Heritage Area designations can have implications on private property rights for landowners in and near the Area designation. Examples from other Heritage Areas around the country show that local governments are often pressured to change land use policies after a Heritage Area has been designated. Additionally, the Heritage Board, the new layer of government set up to administer the Heritage Area, has the authority (and funding provided by the federal government) to make land purchases, which eliminate those properties from the tax rolls.
The Fergus County Commission discussed the Upper Missouri River Heritage Area at their April 22 meeting. “It’s alarming to me that someone draws a circle around Fergus County and no one here is consulted or asked to give input,” said Commissioner Ross Butcher.
“We already have a Monument boundary and the Wild and Scenic River designation. Why do we need another designation on top of what’s already there?” added Commissioner Carl Seilstad.
The proposed Area boundaries include land in Fergus, Chouteau, Cascade, and Lewis & Clark counties, most of it private property.