Frequently Asked Questions

Contact Sunrise County Economic Council: or 207-707-2057.

What will the Downeast Maine National Heritage Area program actually look like?

Who Runs the NHA program?
The NHA program is managed by committee composed of people who live in our communities and who have specific knowledge or skills.

The NHA Program includes two planning phases and then long-term implementation.  Each of these phases is led by a Program Coordinator and a core planning team.  Each phase also includes Advisory groups and sub-committees and provides ample opportunity for any resident to participate.   

The NHA Program Coordinator is an employee of Sunrise County Economic Council, the designated fiscal and administrative sponsor of the program.  The different planning teams are composed of residents with specific knowledge and skills related to the region’s heritage.  Teams must also represent the diverse geography of the Downeast region. 

The NHA Program Coordinator will invite people to participate on these teams based on the Coordinator’s knowledge of what is needed and who are the organizations and people across the region who can expertly and consistently participate.  People are welcome to volunteer themselves or nominate another person.  Criteria and an application process for these committees will be developed if necessary. 

Planning team members will represent the following topics and industries across the region:

  1. Commercial Fisheries
  2. Wild Blueberries
  3. Farming
  4. Forest Products
  5. Hunting/Fishing/Birding/Guiding
  6. History
  7. Arts/Culture/Skilled crafts
  8. Education
  9. Outdoor Recreation
  10. Open Space/conservation
  11. Municipal Government
  12. Tribal Government
  13. Tribal Heritage Interests
  14. Regional Planning
  15. Tourism Planning
  16. Business
  17. Economic Development
  18. Health/Wellness
What are the "planning teams"?

The planning teams are subject matter and local experts who work within their communities to engage others in the planning process, inform NHA programs, and assist their communities to implement projects.  Members of the planning teams commit to attending meetings, reviewing draft content, conducting research, engaging community members, and other tasks based on the type of committee they serve on.

Feasibility Planning – 2020-2022

The Feasibility Study planning team included 13 representatives of the diverse aspects of Downeast Maine’s interwoven heritage story, including economic development, history, tourism, arts, recreation, land conservation, business promotion, municipal planning, fisheries, wild blueberries, and education organizations across both counties.  The Working Group contributed information, knowledge, ideas, and regional perspective. They helped solicit input from the general public and municipal, community, and organization members, and helped the Program Coordinator develop the Feasibility Study.

Management Planning – 2023-2025

The Management Planning phase is led by a core planning team composed of residents who are subject matter experts that cover the entire range of heritage topics.  This phase includes a significant amount of public engagement – any person who wants to participate is highly encouraged to attend the planning meetings.  The Management Planning team helps the Program Coordinator conduct listening sessions, workshops, and help pull together and make sense of all the information gathered during this intensive phase. 

The Management Planning team will also include “satellite committees” who work more deeply together on specific heritage topics.  This phase includes an Advisory team composed of people who may not live in the region but who are professionals in their field and who know and work in Downeast Maine. 

Long-term Management Entity

Once the Management Plan is completed and implementation funds are available, a long-term NHA Management Entity will be established to oversee the NHA program into perpetuity.  This team will be similarly composed of skilled residents who represent the many aspects of heritage and industry in Downeast Maine.  This team will have a limited number of seats, as it will not be effective with too many people.  Long-term management will also require an Advisory Committee and satellite committees. 

In addition to having certain subject matter expertise, all partners on the Management Entity will need to make a long-term commitment to the work and have resources and skills they can contribute.  The Management Planning phase will help clarify what skills, resources, and expertise are needed for a successful long-term program.

Sub-granting Program

The Downeast Maine NHA will provide matching funds to local heritage-based projects through a sub-granting program.  NHA grants are awarded based on the ability of a proposed project to meet the guidelines of the grant program; details on eligible projects and grant criteria will be developed during the Management Planning phase.

This competitive grant program will have its own review committee separate from the Management Entity, although it may include people who are members of the Management Entity.  The Grant Review team will have experience in grant review and oversight, and cultural and natural heritage programs.  An organization, municipality, or school that is represented on the Management Entity is also eligible to apply for grants, but they cannot participate in the grant review process at all.

Why didn't I know about this? Was the proposal developed without public input?

We all gather our news in different ways, and the NHA committee has tried and will continue to try to reach as many people in Downeast Maine as possible. We want your input and encourage you to participate any way that you can. All outreach has pointed people to this primary source of information:

Community discussions about the potential for enrolling in the NHA program began in March 2020 and continued until October 2021 when the proposal was submitted; another series of public drop-in discussions was held in October 2022. Due to the Covid shutdown, most discussions in 2020 and 2021 were held by Zoom NHA meetings were advertised in a number of ways:

Letters were written to local, regional, and state lawmakers and representatives (this will be repeated as positions change). Press releases were submitted to 9 different newspapers across the region, and paid ads were run several times in 7 local newspapers. Meeting notices and links to website and a comment form were shared in Facebook groups and through an extensive email list. Planning committee members and meeting participants were encouraged to talk with their peers and neighbors about the proposal.

The program coordinator met with groups and individuals in different parts of both Washington and Hancock Counties, and during the meetings of other entities – such as Chambers of Commerce and Historical Societies. Letters of support were solicited from a large group of people during the initial planning phase, which required discussing the proposal in more depth with individuals and organizations.

Now that the NHA is approved, a second, more detailed public planning process will occur in 2023 and 2024 during which community conversations will be held primarily in person. We hope you will watch for news in the local newspaper or your in-box, or on social media at We also encourage you to check the website occasionally for updates and to learn about the public meetings –

Is a national heritage area like a national park?

No. National Heritage Areas are part of a program, they are not a place – although they are associated with a location. This location or boundary simply outlines the area within which the program will occur. The specific details of the types of programs and the locations in which they exist are determined through the in-depth management planning process which will begin in 2023. The word “National” refers to the relationship of the local story to the nation’s story, it does not refer to Federal ownership of land or places. Although the federal funds come directly to Downeast Maine through the National Park Service budget, the projects are not owned by nor directed by the National Park Service or any other branch of federal, state, or local government.

Can private land be taken by eminent domain for use by the National Heritage area?

Absolutely not! Many NHA sponsored programs have nothing to do with land or buildings. Neither the NHA or the NHA Management Committee own any land, nor will they take any land for this program. NHA’s utilize a combination of existing National and State properties, and properties that belong to non-profits, municipalities, and schools who voluntarily choose to participate in NHA programs.

How much federal oversight will occur - will the federal government have the final say on what we do?
Although it augments national efforts to preserve American heritage stories, the NHA program was created specifically to enable local communities to interpret and develop their own heritage-based programs. The National Park Service helps that community to succeed by offering technical assistance when requested by the local committee – this could include research, mapping, or expert advice. Through extensive public discussions, the local NHA committee develops a program outline, called a management plan. The committee submits this proposal to the National Park Service so they can provide ideas for successful implementation – but the details of the program are up to the community. Each year the local NHA committee submits a report to the NPS summarizing that year’s activities and outlining plans for the next year.
Will National Heritage Areas affect our private property rights?

This is the most commonly asked question whenever an NHA is proposed anywhere in the country. The answer is absolutely not. First of all, NHAs do not apply to land or property. They invest in programs and projects centered in education, economic development, and downtown revitalization. If a private property owner actually wants any of these projects or programs to occur on their property, they are welcome to propose this to the committee. If a project is implemented on private land based on their proposal, the property owner will be directly involved in planning and may cancel their involvement if they choose to.

Can national Heritage Areas be used to change or enact zoning ordinances that restrict or prevent development?

Land use ordinances and zoning can only be enacted through a majority vote of town residents after a specifically outlined public process – this is State and Federal law. The NHA cannot be used to stop development! NHA designation is not regulatory in any way, shape, or form. They are economic and community development tools for the communities to utilize as they choose. The State and Federal governments do not and will not oversee or regulate development on lands they do not own. Maine laws on how municipalities must engage the public in ordinances and zoning are found online or at your own municipal office:

Will National Heritage Areas be used to remove access to land fur hunting, fishing, and other traditional land uses?

Maine has always taken a generous approach to (respectful) public access to private land. Only private property owners can stop the public from accessing their land by posting it as No Trespassing or No Hunting. Most land managed by State, Federal, and private Land Trusts provide public access for hunting and fishing. Some allow ATV and snowmobile use. Some limit uses to certain areas of the land but not others, some require prior permission. Maine law regarding the rights of private property owners to allow or exclude public access are found here:

How is the National Heritage Area paid for? will communities have to foot the bill?

The NHA program offers federal funds to local projects at a 1:1 match. A municipality, non-profit, or school can apply to the local NHA program for matching funds for a project they would like to do but do not have all the funds they need.

Sunrise County Economic Council will raise matching funds for the staff position; the staff person will help raise additional funds to help offset funds that local entities would contribute to their projects. This will help increase the number or extent of projects that groups in the region can accomplish. For the first 3 years, federal funds will cover the cost of the staff person and any consultants needed to complete the Management Plan.

Why are all of Washington and Hancock counties included when they are so different?

The Downeast Maine National Heritage Area is based on the significant role that our natural resources have played in building and feeding the nation, the role they have played in shaping the lives, livelihoods, beliefs, and culture of the people of Downeast Maine, and how they exist today. These resources primarily include wild blueberries, granite, forest products, ship building, agriculture, fisheries, outdoor recreation, and nature based tourism (like the traditional Maine Guiding industry). The story begins many thousands of years ago with the Wabanaki people, particularly the Passamaquoddy. Those of us who live in this region know that the history, economy, experiences, pastimes, and social and family ties of the people living in Washington and Hancock Counties remain closely connected today, and that our stories do not stop at the county line.

What if we don't want to participate?

If an entity does not want to participate in the Downeast Maine NHA program, they simply don’t apply to the program for funds or other assistance. If a community does not want to be actively promoted as part of the NHA, they do not have to be. The Downeast Maine NHA program will not pursue or endorse projects that that are not publicly supported. Any projects funded through the NHA will be developed in partnership with those community members and organizations who choose to participate.

Can a National Heritage Area project be conducted on my land without my permission?

Absolutely not! Any activity that takes place on private property must be 100% voluntarily approved or proposed by that property owner. Permanent infrastructure related to an NHA can be located only on or in property owned by a municipality, educational institution, non-profit, or State or Federal government. A program can take place on private property only through a partnership between a property owner and one of these entities – for example, a high school group exploring various natural resource careers could tour a commercial mussel farm to learn about aquaculture, a skilled craftsman could teach the art and history of boatbuilding in Downeast Maine, or students could apprentice with a Maine Guide. This can be a one-time event or a long-term program, depending on the landowner’s interest.

If something historically important happened on my property can someone install signs in the public right of way next to my house, or send people to my property without my permission?

The Downeast Maine National Heritage Area will provide matching funds to local entities, like a historical society or downtown revitalization group, who undertake projects within their communities such as a “museum in the street” or “self-guided walking history tour”. The NHA will not fund a project that imposes on any private property and is not supported by the property owner. All proposals to the NHA for funding will be required to show landowner support for projects that include private property.

Are National Heritage Areas focused only on history and keeping things the same as they are now?

No society or cultural or natural landscape ever stays the same; NHAs are meant to help communities move into the future in a purposeful manner. In the same way that we each learn and grow and change on a personal level, moving forward as a community requires understanding where we have been in the past, what we value now, and how we want to carry what we value into the future. NHAs interpret history and engage people to actively move our communities forward in the ways that they want to. NHAs programs can include incredibly diverse projects – it all depends on what community members want to do, as long as the projects relate to our nationally distinctive heritage values.

What are specific examples of projects that will be part of the downeast Maine National Heritage Area?

The beauty of this program is that it is designed to be diverse and flexible to meet the equally diverse needs and interests of communities, as long as it is tied to the region’s unique National heritage. An NHA might focus on a particular industry, historic figure or event, natural landscape, or significant cultural movement. The theme of the Downeast Maine NHA relates to the enduring ties between natural resources and our economy and way of life. This includes natural resources extraction and production, economic and cultural growth and change, how our communities formed on the landscape, and unique natural occurrences. A few specific examples of projects that could be related to the NHA program include:
• High school art and history students, in partnership with local artists and historians, design and paint murals of historically important occurrences in public areas of a downtown.
• A municipality develops a natural history trail that provide access to the outdoors as well as a fun way to learn about native plants and animals.
• A historic house museum builds an Artificial Intelligence experience that enables visitors to walk around the house and see it as if they were there 100 years ago.
Learn about the programs of the 55 other National Heritage Areas in the United States at

What if we don't want more tourists?

The NHA program is primarily intended to increase local quality of life and to involve local people to plan for and develop projects they are interested in. Tourism is promoted when communities have strong resources to offer, and they intentionally market these offerings for the purpose of inviting people outside of their region to visit. Tourism does not happen overnight! NHA programs help communities develop the infrastructure they need and the management tools necessary to ensure tourism does not have negative effects on any community – this happens over a period of years, in partnership with local businesses and municipalities. Marketing a region as large as Downeast Maine involves a large number of people to develop a marketing plan that will succeed. In this region, the primary marketing entity is DownEast Acadia Regional Tourism (DART), composed of local business owners and community organizations. DART works directly with communities to promote the activities and attractions the communities want to promote. You can read about their work and learn how to participate in tourism management discussions here:

Do National Heritage Areas actually provide us with tangible economic benefits?

NHAs do not bring instant change. They are not magic bullets that suddenly propel our communities into a new economic bracket or immediately inspire new business development. Just like most other programs that our communities undertake, NHAs are one more tool that we have to affect the growth we want to see in our communities, and they require time to play out. NHAs provide funds to help develop infrastructure and programs that support businesses and residents to thrive. These funds attract investment from other sources, enabling communities to complete more projects on their to-do list. Over time, new people might move to town and increase the local tax base by opening a business or building a house. Those who grow up Downeast could discover new opportunities to build their own lives and careers and fulfill their personal interests right here. Volunteer committees and boards that we depend upon for important services or beloved events might attract new members, enabling these services and events to continue.

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