The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 23, 2013

Heritage group seeks public input

By Adam Smith
adam@athensnews-courier.com

— A Florence-based group is seeking opinions and input from residents in Limestone County about preservation and enhancement efforts.

The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, which is headquartered at the University of North Alabama, will hold two public meetings next week. The first will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at Muscle Shoals City Hall on Avalon Avenue, and the second will be held at 6 p.m. at the Turner-Surles Community Center, located at 702 Sycamore St. in Decatur.

Despite its name, the MSNHA represents six counties within the Tennessee River water basin, including Limestone, Morgan, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Colbert and Franklin. Established by the Department of Interior and the National Park Service, legislation creating National Heritage Areas was signed into law by Congress in 2002. The MSNHA was approved in 2009.

The purpose of next week’s meetings will be to present a draft management plan for the organization, which has taken about two years to compile.

“The management plan is a framework for us, a constitution that will govern how MSNHA operates,” said Judy Sizemore, MSNHA executive director. “It includes an interpretative plan with comprehensive actions and strategies for telling the area’s stories as well as a business plan and goals for the future.”

Shortly after the two public meetings, there will be a period of time when MSNHA will accept comments on the plan before revising it and submitting the final draft to the National Park Service, which oversees the program.

The program was created to “help tell a national story of the country’s evolution,” according to information on the MSNHA’s website. Sizemore said NHAs are designated by Congress to preserve, protect and interpret the historical, natural and cultural resources in a designated area. There are only 49 NHAs in the U.S., and the Muscle Shoals group is the only one in the state.

“The history and culture of these six counties are linked to each other,” Sizemore said. “You know, when the first settlers arrived here, they didn't think about county boundaries. The same history flows through and connects the entire MSNHA, and the stories of Athens and Limestone County are integral to the story of the entire area.”

Because Limestone is part of the MSNHA, the County Commission on Tuesday reappointed Limestone County Recreation Director Mike Nave to the MSNHA steering committee for a three-year term.

Nave said the steering committee would help draw up guidelines that will help the MSNHA apply for grant funds.

“(The group) is advantageous to us,” he said. “It’s a tourism tool that helps get (visitors) into this area and the counties near the river.”