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San Antonio missions may get World Heritage status

Outposts were early milestones in the colonization of North America

Concepción Mission, San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A group of four historic Spanish missions in San Antonio, preserved as a national historic park, will be nominated to become World Heritage sites.

“The missions represent an important – and often overlooked – chapter of our nation’s history,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “It’s important that visitors from around the world know and celebrate the contributions of Latinos to the fabric of America, and these missions help tell that story in a very real way.”

Salazar made the announcement in early June at the historic Mission Concepción as he continued to push President Obama’s  Great Outdoors initiative. More so than any other president in recent memory, Obama and his team of public land agency leaders have focused on establishing a 21st century approach to conservation.

The Great Outdoors Initiative is also linked with efforts boost a growing outdoor recreation, travel and tourism economy that can create jobs in communities across the country.

“World Heritage Sites represent an incredible opportunity for the United States to market our most significant places as destinations for domestic and international travelers,” Salazar said. “San Antonio Missions National Historical Park preserves four missions that embody the cultural roots of this great city and represents the single largest concentration of Spanish Colonial resources in the United States. As we continue to make progress in achieving this prestigious status for the Missions and for San Antonio, we also are moving forward to make America the world’s number one tourist destination – creating jobs and growing our economy.”

Today’s announcement represents a key step in an official process whereby the National Park Service will propose the nomination to the 21-nation World Heritage Committee during the next available round of nominations. It comes as the U.S. National Committee for ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) celebrates the 40th anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention as part of its annual international symposium, held this year in San Antonio, where Secretary Salazar delivered remarks last night.

The nomination dossier will be completed by the end of 2013, in time for consideration by the World Heritage Committee in 2015.

World Heritage listing is a prestigious designation that acknowledges the historical, cultural or natural value of a site, as well as the commitment of the sovereign nation and the site’s owners to its long-term protection and management. Under the World Heritage Convention, the Secretary of the Interior is charged with identifying and nominating worthy U.S. sites that display superlative cultural and/or natural attributes for designation.

Current World Heritage Sites in the United States include some of our most iconic places, ranging from historic places such as Independence Hall and Mesa Verde to spectacular natural parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

The San Antonio Franciscan Missions, currently on the Tentative List of Potential Future Nominations and recently recommended for World Heritage nomination by the Federal Interagency Panel for World Heritage, includes four missions (San Antonio Missions National Historical Park) and the Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero).

The World Heritage Convention in many ways extends and elaborates on the national park concept, first developed in the United States, on the global scale. Better marketing of these sites to international travelers is a critical part of the Obama administration’s National Tourism and Travel Strategy (pdf), which delivered on President Obama’s call in January for a national strategy to promote domestic and international travel opportunities throughout the United States.

In his remarks, Secretary Salazar noted the strong economic benefits offered by the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Attracting more than 1.6 million visitors a year, the Park supports nearly $100 million in economic activity annually. Those dollars translate into over 1,100 jobs for the local San Antonio community. A National Parks Conservation Association report estimated that a $1 investment in the park yields $16 in local economic activity.

International travelers tend to stay longer and spend more on everything from hotels, to restaurants, to rental cars and airfare. As the national economy continues to recover, making the U.S. an even more attractive international destination, better highlighting our most significant attractions – like the San Antonio Missions – and facilitating the arrival of international travelers will create homegrown jobs in the travel and tourism industry and encourage economic growth.

For more information on the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, visit here.

For more information on the World Heritage Sites, visit here.

For more information on the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, visit here.

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