A proposal to get Del Norte and Humboldt counties named a National Heritage Area makes a lot of sense. We hope local officials join Humboldt County organizations in pursuing this designation.

A National Heritage Area is merely an area marked for its unique natural resources and cultural, historical and recreational amenities. The National Park Service already has declared 37 other such areas, which range from American Revolution and Civil War battlegrounds to Iowa's rural farm communities and Detroit's car manufacturing sections. It imposes no limitations on land use or future building.

The advantage of being designated a National Heritage Area is free advertising. The Northcoast would appear on the park service's Web sites, brochures and publications, at no cost to any of us here. This targets travelers who prefer trips through a region rather than luxury resort packages.

The payoff is increased tourism without much local effort. Indeed, for our economy to grow, tourism will have to increase as well. Among the problems we've faced in attracting more tourists, however, is lack of marketing. The National Heritage Area designation helps fill the gap.

Working with Humboldt County to garner the designation could lay the foundation for other mutually beneficial projects. There's little doubt that we share much in common - redwoods, rugged coastline, Native American culture and a history of logging and fishing - which can appeal to travelers. More coordination in preserving historic sites, developing attractions and marketing our region could go a long way in attracting additional tourists and their dollars to both counties. There hasn't been much discussion about doing that, however. The result is we remain competitors for the same tourism base rather than partners seeking to draw people away from eastern California's Gold Country or Napa and Sonoma counties' Wine Country.

No doubt we'll have to spend some time achieving the designation. But for any venture to succeed, start-up capital and some hard work is needed. If we're successful garnering the designation, however, the payoff will have made it all worthwhile.



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