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Owasco Lake 11.JPG

Paddle boating on Owasco Lake.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's bill to study designating the Finger Lakes region as a national heritage area has cleared its first legislative hurdle. 

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the measure sponsored by Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to conduct a feasibility study in Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca and 11 other counties in the Finger Lakes region. The study would determine whether the Finger Lakes region should be designated as a national heritage area. 

After the committee passed the bill by voice vote, it will now advance to the Senate floor for consideration. 

"Thousands of tourists come from around the world to visit the Finger Lakes region to experience the beautiful landscape, the rich history and culture, and to enjoy all that our local businesses have to offer," Gillibrand said. "Designating the region as a national heritage area would help boost local tourism while conserving and protecting the region's previous natural, historic and cultural resources." 

A national heritage area "must have nationally distinctive natural, cultural and historic resources that, when linked together, tell a unique story about our country," according to the National Park Service's website. National heritage areas aren't units of the National Park Service and the agency doesn't own or manage any land associated with the areas. 

The feasibility study, which Gillibrand has been advocating for since 2015, would help guide the process for designating the Finger Lakes as a national heritage area. Congress has the authority to designate national heritage areas. 

There are 49 national heritage areas in 32 states. New York is home to four national heritage areas: Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and Niagara Falls National Heritage Area. 

Gillibrand believes the Finger Lakes region is a prime candidate to become a national heritage area. The region's tourism industry generated $3 billion in 2016 and employed 59,326 people, according to 2016 data. There are more than 400 registered historic sites and landmarks in the 14-county region. 

Becoming a national heritage area could provide an added economic boost. Through partnerships and other initiatives, national heritage areas produce $5.50 in jobs and revenue for every $1 of federal investment. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.