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Home arrowHeritage Tourism arrowFederal Programs that Can Support Heritage Tourism
Federal Programs that Can Support Heritage Tourism

The following is a sampling of federal programs that can help promote and support local or regional heritage tourism initiatives.

Historic preservation grants-in-aid—such as Historic Preservation Fund projects, grants to Certified Local Governments and Indian tribes, American Battlefield Protection grants, and Save America’s Treasures grants—could each theoretically be used for some relevant aspect of a heritage tourism project or program.

In addition to these and the programs listed below, many federal agencies have related tourism and/or recreation programs that can help support non-federal heritage tourism initiatives through partnerships and co-promotion. Links to these programs and other related information are available on the Preserve America Web site at

Department of Agriculture

Agritourism and Alternative Enterprises
Natural Resources Conservation Service
This technical assistance program assists farmers and ranchers in exploring alternate economic enterprises, including heritage tourism.(

Resource Conservation and Development Program
Natural Resources Conservation Service
This program provides technical and limited financial assistance to assist more than 300 local RC&D Councils with development projects, including heritage tourism and related business development. (

Rural Development Grant Programs
Rural Development
These grant and loan programs promote rural community development projects and planning. Among the programs are Rural Business Enterprise Grants, Rural Business Opportunity Grants, and Rural Economic Development Grants and Loans. (

Department of Commerce

Market Developer Cooperator Program
International Trade Administration
This program is designed to build partnerships by providing federal assistance to organizations involved in export promotion. The program can support tourism initiatives (and potentially heritage tourism) as demonstrated by a grant to the Western States Tourism Policy Council to work with gateway communities outside of federal lands to increase international visitors. (

Public Works, Economic Adjustment, Planning, and Research and Technical Assistance Programs
Economic Development Administration
Grants from these programs assist communities in infrastructure development, local capacity building, and business development to help alleviate conditions of substantial and persistent unemployment in economically distressed areas and regions. Rehabilitation of historic properties is an eligible activity if there is significant job creation. (

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Community Development Block Grants
Community Development Block Grant funds help communities carry out a wide range of community development activities directed toward revitalizing neighborhoods, economic development, and providing improved community facilities and services. Because they are block grants, communities have discretion in how they spend funds and can use them to support heritage tourism initiatives or related infrastructure. HUD has published a booklet Preserving America, Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism in Housing and Community Development. Subtitled A Guide to Using Community Development Block Grant Funds for Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism in Your Communities. The publication explains how eligible CDBG activities can support heritage tourism.

Rural Housing and Economic Development Grants
These grants assist in capacity building at the state and local level for rural housing and economic development and support innovative housing and economic development activities in rural areas. They can fund projects involving heritage tourism and economic development through use of historic properties. (

Department of the Interior

National Heritage Areas Program
National Park Service
National Heritage Areas are individually authorized by Congress and receive funding, technical assistance, and management support from the National Park Service. Heritage area designation provides a vehicle for promoting local economic and cultural vitality by capitalizing on an area’s heritage assets, particularly through heritage tourism. (

National Register of Historic Places "Discover Our Shared Heritage" Travel Itineraries
National Park Service
Maps and travel itineraries (printed and online) have been developed linking National Register properties on a thematic or regional basis. To date there are 30 itineraries online. (

National Trails System
National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management [with USDA Forest Service]
Today, the National Trails System is comprised of eight national scenic trails, 18 national historic trails, and more than 1,050 national recreation trails. Although designated by Congress and administered by federal agencies, ownership may be public or private. (

Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program
National Park Service
This program provides assistance to local and state agencies and private organizations working on river and trail corridor projects. No grant funding is currently available, but the program assists partners in planning and finding appropriate project funding. Specific assistance is given for river, trail, and greenway planning, regional assessments of potential trail corridors, conservation workshops, and expert consultations on related issues. The program publishes success stories and “best practices.” (

Department of Transportation

National Scenic Byways Program
Federal Highway Administration
This program provides technical and financial assistance to help preserve America’s scenic roads and promote tourism and economic development. Grants are available to assist states in implementing projects on National Scenic Byways and developing state scenic byways. The national scenic byways system currently includes 125 nationally designated byways; approximately 400 additional scenic byways are recognized at the state level. (

Recreational Trails Program Grants
Federal Highway Administration
These grants can be used to maintain, restore, and rehabilitate trails, including National Historic Trails, and rehabilitate trailside facilities. They can also support acquisition of easements or titles to property for trails, including acquisition of old road or railroad bridges to be used as recreational trail bridges. (

Transportation and Transit Enhancements Programs
Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration
Ten percent of Federal Surface Transportation Program funds and 1 percent of federal urban mass transit funds are set aside to fund transportation enhancements. Such funding can be used for historic preservation projects and programs related to historic transportation routes, systems, facilities, etc. Heritage tourism trails may be funded at state discretion. (


American Heritage Rivers Initiative
This umbrella initiative is designed to help communities along 12 designated American Heritage Rivers receive improved access to technical and financial assistance from federal agencies. The overall goals of the program are to foster economic revitalization, natural resource and environmental protection, and historic and cultural preservation. Each river has a federal single point-of-contact to assist communities, and federal agencies make field staff available to each American Heritage River to help match community needs with available resources. (

National Endowment for the Arts

Challenge America Fast-Track Review Grants
These grants offer support to small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations. Eligible projects include those focusing on the development of cultural tourism and cultural districts, and assisting local economic development and cultural publicity efforts (

National Endowment for the Humanities

America’s Historic Places Grants
Part of NEH’s We the People Initiative, this program provides funding for public programs that use one or more historic sites to address issues central to American history. Projects eligible for funding may interpret a single historic site, a series of sites, whole neighborhoods, communities or towns, or larger geographical regions. Fundable activities include docent tours, publications (e.g., brochures, guidebooks, etc.), driving or walking trails or tours, annotated itineraries, exhibition labeling or trail signs, films, and digital media. (

Small Business Administration

Training Programs
The Small Business Administration does not provide direct loans or grants (although it guarantees loans), but it does provide entrepreneurs with training materials and opportunities that could support heritage tourism and business development using historic buildings. (

Updated August 28, 2012

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