Updated March 2022


The Proposed Big Sky Country National Heritage Area


The proposed Big Sky Country National Heritage Area which includes all of Cascade County and parts of Chouteau County.


National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. Through their resources, NHAs tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage. NHAs are lived-in landscapes. Consequently, NHA entities collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.

NHAs are a grassroots, community-driven approach to heritage conservation and economic development. Through public-private partnerships, NHA entities support historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects. Leveraging funds and long-term support for projects, NHA partnerships foster pride of place and an enduring stewardship ethic.

NHAs further the mission of the National Park Service (NPS) by fostering community stewardship of our nation’s heritage. The NHA program, which currently includes 49 heritage areas, is administered by NPS coordinators in Washington DC and six regional offices – Anchorage, San Francisco, Denver, Omaha, Philadelphia and Atlanta – as well as park unit staff.

NHAs are not national park units. Rather, NPS partners with, provides technical assistance, and distributes matching federal funds from Congress to NHA entities. NPS does not assume ownership of land inside heritage areas or impose land use controls.

NHA Facts

  • Fifty-five NHAs have been designated by Congress since 1984. Each NHA is created through individual federal law. There are no current National Heritage Areas in Montana.
  • NHA designation recognizes the national importance of a region’s sites and history.
  • Through annual Congressional appropriations, NPS passes funds to NHA entities. Although most entities are authorized to receive up to $1 million annually over a set period of time, actual annual appropriations range from $150,000 – $750,000.
  • The financial assistance component of the program is secured with legal agreements, accountability measures, and performance requirements for NHA entities.


MSGA stands firm on the protection of private property rights. In November 2020, MSGA membership adopted a policy opposing the proposed Big Sky Country National Heritage Area designation.

MSGA advocates for the protection of private property rights and the protection of private property owners from undue harm as a result of a national heritage area. In most cases, National Heritage Areas are primarily composed of private land. However, private property owners within the proposed footprint have no ability to remove their property from this designation. Additionally, the concern that once a designation is put in place, an annual allocation of up-to $1 million dollars can be made. This money will be managed by a self-appointed, private, unelected, unaccountable entity.


During the 2021 Legislative session, MSGA worked with Representative Josh Kassmeier to introduce legislation to require state legislative approval for designations of national heritage areas or national historic trail designations allowing for an additional layer of a “check and balance” put in place to the citizens of Montana.

House Bill 554 stated that “any designation by the United States national park service of a national heritage area or national historic trail that extends beyond federal land requires the approval of the legislature prior to a congressional act.” 

This legislation was signed into law in May 2021.