The Augusta Canal National Heritage Area is set to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding at the end of the month if Congress doesn’t act.
Congress created the Augusta Canal area in 1996 but put a time limit on federal funding. The National Park Service has to recommend whether to continue funding, but it has not finished reviews of several other national heritage areas, leaving the canal waiting. With an election and deadlines for federal budget cuts looming, it could be next year before any funding decisions are made in Congress.
Losing the federal money will not close the heritage area, though it will slow down capital projects, said Augusta Canal Authority executive director Dayton Sherrouse.
“The amount of money we received this year was $308,000, so you can always use that money for projects. If you don’t have it, you’ve got to slow down projects and push them a little further into the future,” Sherrouse said.
The money has paid for new trails, docks for canoes and kayaks and pedestrian bridges, for example. Income from boat tours and other activities fund the area’s operations.
A park service evaluation shows the area has received $5 million in federal money since 2000 and has generated another $25 million in revenues on top of that.
“I can’t think of a better investment of any federal program that for every federal dollar, it leveraged an additional $5. To me, that’s a great example of federal money being used wisely,” Sherrouse said.
Sherrouse said all the other heritage areas that have previously come up for renewal have succeeded. In the meantime, the House has passed a measure continuing all funding for the federal government for six months while Congress works out a full budget for next year.