Maryland Heritage Areas Program

Harriet Tubman, one of the greatest figures of the Underground Railroad and the struggle to end slavery, was born and spent the early years of her life in Dorchester and Caroline Counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Many of the landscapes, sites, and stories of Tubman’s early life are interpreted within the Heart of Chesapeake Country and Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Areas.Heritage Area Certification

There is a two stage process to establish a Maryland Heritage Area.


The first step of the process is for the community(ies) that wish to establish a heritage area to prepare an application to the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) to become a Recognized Heritage Area.


Preparation of a management plan approved by the MHAA is a requirement for receiving “Certified” Heritage Area status.  As stated above, a Recognized Heritage Area is eligible to receive a grant from MHAA for up to 50% of the cost of preparing a management plan. 

The purpose of a management plan is threefold:

  • to provide a strategic action blueprint for the proposed heritage area;
  • to enable key stakeholders to reach consensus on the roles each will play in implementing the management plan;
  • to determine the optimum investment of public resources necessary to trigger significant non-State commitments of dollars, expertise, and programmatic support that will make the heritage area sustainable over time.


The statute establishing the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and regulations specify the requirements and procedures for designating Recognized and Certified Heritage Areas.  For additional information, see the documents “MHAA Statute”.


Recognized Heritage Areas


The application to designate a Recognized Heritage Area must address the following items:

  1. Evidence of the area’s heritage – Is physical evidence of the area’s historical, natural, or cultural heritage present in enough abundance to signal the existence of a distinctive place?
  2. Economic and community development and tourism – What current and future economic revitalization initiatives that would support heritage tourism are underway or planned?  What visitor services such as accommodations, and places to eat, drink, and shop are available?  What tourism activity trends are occurring or predicted for the area; is tourism increasing, decreasing, or stable and why?
  3. Interpretive structure and programs – What is the significance of the area, and what are its most distinctive themes?  What are the major resources (e.g. museums, parks, historic sites, cultural institutions) for presenting the distinctive stories of the area?  How could these be improved?
  4. Linkages – What infrastructure that will support visitation of sites by foot, bicycle, boat, or automobile exist in the area?  What amenities such as scenic byways, tour routes, trails, greenways, or water trails exist that will encourage linkages among heritage area attractions?
  5. Commitment and local leadership – What key organizations are or will be involved in the heritage area planning, programming, marketing, and management?
  6. Stewardship – What key local policies shaping land use, preservation of historic character, conservation of open space, farmland and landscapes exist?  What non-profit/private sector organizations exist in the area such as land trusts or historic preservation organizations?
  7. Key issues for the Recognized Heritage Area process – What are the most critical issues or questions that will be addressed in the process of developing a Heritage Area management plan?
  8. Managing the heritage area What organizational structure will be put in place during the management planning process?
  9. Vision – What will be different in the proposed heritage area as a result of this initiative?
  10. Return on Investment – Describe how the proposed heritage area could reasonably be expected to provide a return on the State’s investment through the Heritage Area program.

Once a Heritage Area has been “Recognized” it becomes eligible for State grant assistance for up to 50% of the cost of preparing a Management Plan setting forth the strategies, projects, programs, actions, and partnerships that will be involved in achieving its goals.  Preparation of a management plan approved by the MHAA is a requirement for receiving “Certified” Heritage Area status.


Certified Heritage Areas


Certified Heritage Areas (CHAs) are very special geographic areas in Maryland which contain exceptionally high concentrations of unique historical, cultural, and natural resources, and where motivated community partners are dedicated to the protection and development of those resources for economic development through heritage tourism. The detailed program guide, The Maryland Heritage Preservation and Tourism Areas Program, provides further information on the core components of a successful heritage area.

The key requirement that must be met for designation of a certified Heritage Area is the preparation and approval by MHAA of a Management Plan for the proposed CHA.  The principal types of information that must be provided in a CHA Management Plan include:

  1. Boundaries of the area proposed to be added to the CHA (a map must be provided – please contact MHAA staff for specific requirements);
  2. An inventory of known significant historical, natural, or cultural resources that will aid in interpreting the themes of the CHA as presented in the Heritage Area Management Plan;
    The types of heritage tourism-related public and private uses that would be encouraged within the area;
  3. Information on known or contemplated projects, sites, and programs that could be supported through MHAA benefits including grants, loans, and tax credits;
    If known, proposed or contemplated Target Investment Zones (TIZ) and projected TIZ boundaries;
  4. A description of existing or proposed mechanisms such as local government ordinances, historic preservation commissions, or local tax credits that will assist in preserving and protecting the unique historical, natural, and cultural resources that are key to defining and telling the stories of Heritage Area;
  5. Any other relevant information concerning the area proposed to be added to the CHA.


Required Local Comprehensive Plan Amendment:

In addition, before a CHA can be designated, all local governments within the proposed CHA must amend their local comprehensive plan to incorporate those portions of the Certified Heritage Area Management Plan that apply to the affected jurisdiction [Financial Institutions Article, §13-1111(m)].



The following benefits are available within Certified Heritage Areas:

Matching Grants: Non-profits and local governments are eligible to apply to the MHAA for heritage tourism project grants that must be matched, at minimum, dollar for dollar.

Loans to small businesses to create or enhance heritage tourism products and services.

Marketing grants to Heritage Area and Destination Marketing Organizations to market Heritage Area sites and events to visitors and the tourism and hospitality industry.

Operating support to local Heritage Area management entities to build partnerships among heritage institutions, enhance the quality of heritage tourism product, and provide technical assistance to communities and partner organizations.

Tax Credits for historic, and in certain cases non-historic, buildings located within a Heritage Area Target Investment Zone (see *link to tax credits and  TIZ information).  Buildings in Heritage Areas do not have to be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places if the MHAA certifies the project as having a significant heritage tourism impact


This page updated: May 1, 2009