Archive for Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bill advancing to establish National Heritage Area

Black Jack site could play role in designation

May 25, 2006

If northeast Kansas one day becomes a National Heritage Area, telling the story of pre-Civil War "Bleeding Kansas," the Black Jack Battlefield will be a key element in the system.

"It's very significant," said Debbie White, manager of the Lawrence Visitors Center, "because the battle of Black Jack was the first armed conflict between the North and South, and it was here in Kansas. The Battle of Black Jack is one of multiple stories that are part of the heritage area."

A Lawrence-led coalition has asked Congress to put up $10 million over 15 years for a Bleeding Kansas and the Enduring Struggle for Freedom National Heritage Area, composed of 38 counties in eastern Kansas and western Missouri.

The money would be used to develop and promote exhibits, museums and historic sites within the region, in partnership with the National Park Service.

A bill to establish the heritage area passed the U.S. Senate in July. Earlier this year, a similar bill passed out of a House committee.

"It's still on the House side," White said. U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun "is still working to move it through the House. You just never know when it's going to happen, till after it happens."

"The Battle of Black Jack is one of many stories that we hope to tell through our efforts to pass the Bleeding Kansas National Heritage Area legislation," Ryun said in a statement to the Journal-World. "We are currently in negotiations with the Committee of Jurisdiction and hope to bring this legislation to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives soon."

Other historic sites that would be promoted include the Watkins Community Museum of History in Lawrence and Constitution Hall in Lecompton.

But Judy Billings, who has led efforts to attract the federal designation, in 2004 said Black Jack would be a "crown jewel" of a National Heritage Area.

"We're standing on the ground where John Brown and his men came through," Billings said during a tour of the site. "When you start thinking about those things, and the magnitude of what happened here, and its importance to the nation and its development, it begins to give you chills."

The federal money would help Black Jack boosters in their efforts to attract tourists and tell the story of the battle.

"It will give us a national presence, to be associated with the (National) Park Service ... which we do not have right now," White said. "It will help with funding to help us interpret, expand and share the stories of the heritage area much better."

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