A Maritime Heritage Area for King County

Fisherman's Terminal © 2004 4Culture
Fisherman’s Terminal © 2004 4Culture

Celebrating our ties to the sea

This week the King County Council unanimously designated the publicly accessible saltwater shoreline, the Ship Canal, and Lake Union as a “County Maritime Heritage Area.” What is a heritage area, anyway?

The concept is borrowed from the “National Heritage Areas” Program, through which nationally significant landscapes are recognized by Congress. These are NOT national parks, but rather regions that have a living cultural heritage, shaped by distinctive geography. There are 49 of these special places around the country, but so far none in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the last decade, 4Culture has been part of a vocal grass roots effort – stretching from Aberdeen to Gig Harbor to Bellingham – to recognize our maritime culture in this way. After all, we’re known for scenic waterways, bustling waterfronts, dry docks and boat yards, commercial fisheries, centuries-old lighthouses, iconic historic vessels, and a huge fleet of private watercraft, from Native American canoes to corporate yachts.

But so far, the effort to gain recognition at the federal and state level hasn’t been successful. Some people fear that the designation brings regulation, but that’s not the case. Heritage areas are solely for purposes of promoting tourism, preserving a sense of place, and supporting economic development – there is no regulatory angle.

As King County Councilmember Larry Phillips so rightly observes, “We are defined by our waters and shorelines and our interaction with them over time, and that story should be highlighted and celebrated.” Kudos to Councilmember Phillips for putting King County out in front by sponsoring this legislation at the local level!

For more information on the County Maritime Heritage Area, contact the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.