While Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to testify about the migrant crisis in front of the House Budget Committee, Lowell Perry Jr. of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area was also in the nation’s capital to lobby for more funding for his and other heritage areas.
Perry said Nicholls got to sit in with him on his meetings with Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally, after Perry watched part of the mayor’s testimony. “We’ve had quite a day so far, and it’s been very productive,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
The Arizona senators both had to squeeze Perry and Nicholls in around key Senate votes on additional funding for the Department of Homeland Security for the continuing migrant crisis and other issues. “Both were extremely accommodating,” Perry said.
They’re seeking support for the National Heritage Area Act of 2019 (HR 1049), which would reauthorize funding for many of the history-focused areas including Yuma Crossing, which is facing a sunset date for its current authorization in 2021.
“This would reauthorize our efforts, and we would be in line for potentially an increase in funding, if it’s successful,” he said.
Yuma Crossing currently gets about $350,000 in funding from the U.S. National Park Service, Perry said, which is the piece affected by the legislation, plus some additional money from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
HR 1049 would increase the funding available to all national heritage areas, through additional operating funds and grants.
According to the National Park Service’s website, heritage areas are designated by Congress as “places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.” There are 49, mostly in the Northeast and Southeast.
The president of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas testified for the bill at the House Natural Resources committee in April, and Perry said he is following up on that to build support in Congress.
“We wanted to get this set of meetings in before they go out on their break coming up here (for the Fourth of July), so the timing was very good,” he said.
The bill has gotten broad backing from Democrats, he said, and “right now, we’re looking for more Republican support on that side of things. For me, when you’re talking about history, it’s not something which is red or blue, or Democrat or Republican. It doesn’t get more American than history,” he said.
This money would primarily go toward park operations and improvements, such as new interactive exhibits at both the Yuma Territorial Prison and Colorado River state historic parks, which are within the heritage area and managed by the city under an agreement with the state parks department.
But much of Perry’s pitch focuses on how federal spending on heritage areas can lure additional investment to the surrounding community by drawing more locals and tourists to the heritage area, which Perry is calling a “megapark.”
Beyond the two state parks, Perry said, the West and East Wetlands provide different kinds of outdoor recreation, with playgrounds, beaches and other family-oriented facilities in the west and the less developed paths in the east for hiking, birding and other nature-focused activities.
Looking south into the historic downtown, which is also inside the heritage area, Perry said, “We’ve got our own version of Downtown Disney coming together,” with restaurants and bars, shops, the Sanguinetti House Museum, Yuma Art Center, Regency Main Street Cinemas and more attractions, with an additional hotel under construction.
“You put all of those things together, they’re almost all within walking distance, when you think about it,” he said.
“So if you look at that as one destination with several different parts of the park to it, that’s why I refer to it as a megapark. And that is the footprint of the national heritage area, which is also a national historic landmark, which is a very big deal.”
Additional redevelopment efforts by the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe on the California side of the river, plus its Paradise Casino, pushes the boundary out even further on what can be marketed as a “megapark,” which could make Yuma more of a destination than a pit stop.
It will take a lot of private-sector partnerships and donations to bring this vision to fruition, he said, but “the most important thing to share is we’ve got some really friendly and welcoming people that live and work in Yuma. I know we’ll welcome people with open arms and they’re going to want to keep coming back, as our winter visitors do every season.”
“I’m thrilled about where things are going, and we’re talking to a lot of our strategic partners about this vision, and we’ll begin to flesh out a little bit more of this as we go.”
Quechan Economic Development Director Brian Golding, president of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area’s board, said the tribe has been maintaining a section of riverbank between the 4th Avenue and Ocean to Ocean bridges.
It’s been cleared of invasive vegetation, while it awaits the news of a grant it applied for to begin irrigating and replanting the stretch, Golding said.
Also last year, the condition of Fort Yuma and the surrounding buildings was reassessed by historic architect Wayne Donaldson, who recommended a new restoration plan, and the tribe is also seeking funding for that. He said the reauthorization of funding for the heritage area is critical. “We’ve had a pretty tremendous impact on the region, its economy, and highly leveraged the federal grant funding that came through with a lot of private funding. And we’re starting to see the results of that,” he said, including the Hilton Garden Inn Pivot Point and under-construction Hilton Home2.
Perry said the bottom line for him is being able to sustain the historic attractions within the heritage area for future generations.
“For me it’s all about the kids, and they ought to be able to see, to touch, to understand their history, in Yuma. And be able to see those buildings and stories, and get a feel for being taken back in time, instead of just reading about it in a book,” he said.