Environmental Management

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 195–212 | Cite as

Evaluating U.S. National Heritage Areas: Theory, Methods, and Application

  • Daniel LavenEmail author
  • Curtis Ventriss
  • Robert Manning
  • Nora Mitchell


Like many governmental actors in recent decades, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) has operated increasingly through partnerships with other state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community groups, and private sector corporations. Perhaps the most salient example of this trend toward partnerships is the rapid growth and development of national heritage areas (NHAs). Since the first NHA received congressional designation in 1984, NHAs have become an increasingly popular strategy for protecting and managing landscapes. To date, congressional designation has been granted to 49 NHAs, making them one of the fastest growing initiatives involving the NPS. Despite this growth, no prior research has examined the efficacy or effectiveness of the NHA model. This article introduces the NHA concept, while reviewing the literature on evaluation research and its application to protected area management. We then offer an NHA program theory model for evaluating NHAs. The model was developed using a theory-based, process evaluation approach, along with 90 qualitative interviews conducted at three study sites: Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, MA-RI (BLAC); Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, PA (DELE); and Cane River National Heritage Area, LA (CANE). We conclude by discussing the key challenges and implications associated with developing a long-term research agenda for evaluating NHAs.


National heritage areas Evaluation research Program theory model Networks 



The authors wish to thank Brenda Barrett, Michael Creasey, Allen Saches, and Nancy Morgan for their commitment to applying evaluation to advance our understanding of NHAs and their thoughtful contributions to the work presented here. Financial support for this research was provided by the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Cane River National Heritage Area, National Park Service Conservation Study Institute, and the University of Vermont.


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Copyright information

© US Government  2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Laven
    • 1
    Email author
  • Curtis Ventriss
    • 2
  • Robert Manning
    • 2
  • Nora Mitchell
    • 1
  1. 1.National Park ServiceConservation Study InstituteWoodstockUSA
  2. 2.Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural ResourcesUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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