Press Release

In Seneca County, Gillibrand Announces Legislation To Designate The Finger Lakes Region As A National Heritage Area 

Aug 14, 2023

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Buttonwood Grove Winery to announce her Finger Lakes National Heritage Area Act, legislation that would designate the Finger Lakes region as a National Heritage Area. National Heritage Areas (NHA) are established by Congress to recognize a region’s natural, cultural, or historic significance. Securing this designation for the Finger Lakes would promote tourism and help ensure that the area is preserved for generations to come. 

The Finger Lakes are a national treasure,” said Senator Gillibrand. “They are home to a beautiful landscape, rich history, and thriving small businesses. In recognition of all this area has to offer, I’m leading the push to designate the region as an NHA. This designation will promote tourism, create jobs, and make sure local communities have what they need to thrive for years to come. I am committed to getting this bill signed into law.” 

“As a proud business owner along Cayuga Lake, establishing the Finger Lakes National Heritage Area will highlight our region’s assets and natural beauty,” said Dave and Melissa Pittard, Buttonwood Grove Winery co-owners and Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance members. “Tourism is an essential component of the Finger Lakes economy, and the NHA will support that and help promote our communities and businesses. I appreciate Senator Gillibrand’s commitment to this issue, and look forward to seeing the NHA established.”

“The core motivation to seek a National Heritage Area designation for the Finger Lakes was a simple one: to do tourism more responsibly and to honor the reasons our region is a landmark worthy of sharing with the world. Our industry stands on the shoulders of the Haudenosaunee, the suffragists, the abolitionists and innovators that uniquely make up the story of America,” said Meghan Lawton, President & CEO of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance. “Introduction of this legislation is an important milestone, but our work continues hand-in-hand with Senator Gillibrand’s office, the NY Congressional Delegation and the support of our county-level and industry partners. We thank Senator Gillibrand and all our partners across the region for their support and assistance in getting the Finger Lakes region one step closer to this designation.”

“The NHA Committee of FLTA has done an incredible job as they have worked to advance this designation! The community support has been tremendous as well.  The Committee worked closely with the National Park Service as information was gathered for the feasibility study, and it should be noted that all of this work was done during the height of the COVID pandemic,” said Cindy Kimble, FLTA NHA Committee Member. “I am very proud of the work of this committee, the community support and the staff with National Parks Service.  No hurdle was too big! The next step is being taken today with Senator Gillibrand’s efforts to bring forward this bill! Thank you to all for bringing the project this far and I look forward to hearing that this bill has become a law which designates the Finger Lakes region as a NHA.”

“Upon its adoption, the legislation that Senator Gillibrand is introducing will provide the means and recognition to preserve and promote the numerous natural, cultural, and historical resources in the Finger Lakes. The national importance of our area is something that those of us who have grown up here have always known. Whether it be the history of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, the Birthplace of Memorial Day in Waterloo, the work of the nation’s premier Land Grant University at Cornell, or the deep glacier-formed lakes that have given us our world-renowned wine industry, the Finger Lakes have been and continue to be significant to the life of this nation,” said W. Averell H. Bauder, Executive Director, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. “We thank Senator Gillibrand for leading the effort that will help us to continue to support those sites, organizations, and industries that make us such an important part of America’s story.”

“The Finger Lakes region is a treasured place in New York State, but has long needed a cohesive structure to help bring together the diverse stakeholders working to ensure a thriving future for the area. The National Heritage program is a perfect fit, bringing interests together while preserving the voice of the community. Since 2015 we have been working hard to make this a reality. What an exciting journey to be a part of, and now we are one step closer,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Clark, 136th District. “While I was working for Senator Gillibrand, we brought together the Finger Lakes stakeholders and the National Park Service to get the National Heritage Area process started. Now, as a State Legislator representing areas within the proposed NHA, I’m excited to see this get over the finish line. The Finger Lakes National Heritage Area Act will firmly establish why this region is such a cherished part of our state for so many people.”

The process for designating a region as a National Heritage Area usually involves two steps. First, Congress passes a bill directing the National Park Service to conduct a feasibility study, which determines whether the area is suitable for being designated as an NHA. If the results of the feasibility study are positive, Congress then must pass a second bill to formally designate the region. 

Kirsten has been leading the push to designate the Finger Lakes as an NHA in line with this two-step process. In 2015, she first announced the Finger Lakes National Heritage Area Study Act to direct NPS to conduct a feasibility study, and in 2019, it was signed into law. The National Park Service completed its feasibility study and confirmed the Finger Lakes’ eligibility earlier this year. Now, the Finger Lakes National Heritage Area Act would complete the second step in the process and formally create the Finger Lakes NHA.

The following 14 New York counties would comprise the Finger Lakes NHA: Cayuga, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, Wayne, and Yates.