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Home arrowNews arrowMarch 21, 2013

Preserve America Celebrates a Milestone, Looks for Feedback

Historic Filipinotown, Los Angeles, CA

March 3, 2013, marked the 10th anniversary of the announcement of the Preserve America program. Then-First Lady Laura Bush launched the program with a speech at the annual meeting of the National Association of Counties in Washington, D.C. The same day, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13287, “Preserve America,” as a complement to this public-private partnership program.

As the First Lady said on that occasion,

As you traveled here, you may have flown over America’s patchwork of farms and small towns.  You may have driven through Main Street with its welcoming charm or walked past the Jefferson Memorial with curving dome and thoughtful presence. Every mile of your trip was a journey through America’s great heritage—a heritage our parents and grandparents bestowed to us, and each of you continue to build upon. America is blessed with historic architecture, landscapes, and communities. Every one tells a story about the past and provides insight for the future. But to prepare for the future, we much remember our history. 

Today, the President signed an Executive Order on Preserve America to ensure that everyone, especially our children, will continue to explore and learn from historic treasures like Jamestown.  This order directs federal agencies to inventory and promote greater use of historical sites in partnership with state, tribal, and local governments. Preserve America will provide more opportunities for preservation and increase tourism and economic development. There are so many stories of preservation at work in our communities.

MO University City kids at Sutter-Meyer HousePromotional events in Mobile, Alabama, and Portland, Maine, featuring the First Lady and designed to encourage applications from likely Preserve America Communities throughout the country followed in the fall of 2003. 

The first eight Preserve America Communities were recognized in the East Room of the White House on January 15, 2004. They included Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Versailles, Kentucky; Key West, Florida; Putnam County, New York; Dorchester County, Maryland; Delaware, Ohio; Augusta, Georgia; and Castroville, Texas.  

Fort Madison, IA

Fast-forwarding to today, 887 Preserve America Communities have been designated in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories; 38 volunteer Preserve America Steward organizations have been recognized; 20 Preserve America Presidential Awards bestowed; and more than $21 million awarded for 281 competitive grant projects to support heritage tourism through research and documentation, planning, education and interpretation, promotion, and training throughout the country.

Neither the Presidential Awards nor the grants have continued in recent years; the last Presidential Awards were given in 2008, and the most recent funding for Preserve America Grants was appropriated in 2010. However, many of the funded grant projects remain active, and the National Park Service continues to consult with grantees and receive progress reports as well as specific products produced with the grant funds. First Lady Michelle Obama continues to be engaged in the program with the formal designation of Preserve America Communities and Preserve America Stewards.

Thatcher IslandPlans are underway to recognize Preserve America’s anniversary with at least two conference programs. Special events or other activities may be possible and are under discussion. But this 10th anniversary year also presents a challenge—what is the value of the program? How has it touched your community or organization, despite (or perhaps because of) the economy? The ACHP is looking at further ways to both highlight the accomplishments of Preserve America, and to see how the program might be continued and perhaps even enhanced in spite of funding and other challenges. We would be pleased to hear from you! Please share your thoughts and ideas with us via e-mail to Judy Rodenstein, our Preserve America Communities Program Manager, in our Office of Preservation Initiatives (jrodenstein@achp.gov).

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