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House passes legislation to advance protections of the Great Dismal Swamp

Great Dismal Swamp
(© James – stock.adobe.com)

The House of Representatives passed Congressman A. Donald McEachin’s bicameral Great Dismal Swamp National Heritage Area Act.

The legislation directs the Secretary of the Interior to assess the suitability and feasibility of designating the Great Dismal Swamp and its associated sites as a National Heritage Area.

The Great Dismal Swamp is home to the ancestral lands of the Nansemond Indian Nation and the historic lands of the Haliwa-Saponi and Meherrin Tribes. It was a refuge for early colonial Free People of Color whose families resisted American slavery and has the largest known collection of archaeological artifacts from maroon colonies. It also served as one of the only known water-based stops on the Underground Railroad.

“The Great Dismal Swamp is an incredibly important historical, archaeological, and environmental site for the Commonwealth,” said Rep. McEachin (D-VA-04). “The Swamp was once a home and refuge to African American and Indigenous populations and enabled robust economic activity between the communities that called it home. Not only does it have immense cultural significance, the Swamp also plays a crucial role in our continued fight against the climate crisis.”

Congressional designation of a National Heritage Area implies the site holds historical, cultural and environmental significance to the American people. Currently, 55 NHAs exist across the country, adding billions of dollars to our economy and supporting thousands of jobs.

NHAs are vital sources of job creation and economic, cultural, environmental and community development, yielding $5.50 in local economic activity for every dollar of federal investment. NHAs do not affect private property rights and the National Park Service does not assume ownership or impose land use controls over land inside the heritage area, leaving the decision-making authority in the hands of local communities.

“We have a sacred responsibility to ensure the history and integrity of the Great Dismal Swamp survives for future generations,” McEachin said. “This is an important step in conserving the vital resources, wildlife, and historical importance of the region while stimulating the Commonwealth’s economy through tremendous job creation and local economic activity. I am thrilled that my Great Dismal Swamp National Heritage Area Act has passed the House, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to bring it to the floor without delay.”

The legislation was co-led by Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA-02), Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA-03), and G. K. Butterfield (D-NC-01). Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) have introduced companion Senate legislation.