Gateway: Lancaster, York counties proposed
Heritage status for two counties? Sen. Casey again pushes Lancaster and York for designation
Iowa has the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area. Michigan has one called Motor Cities.
In all, Congress has designated 49 heritage areas around the country, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey is proposing one more: the Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area.
The proposed heritage area, which would include all of Lancaster and York counties, could be a spur to tourism and economic development here as well as another reason to preserve the region's distinctive agricultural and small-town character.
A designation would combine the two counties' cultural and natural treasures into a single, regional package worthy of a national spotlight.
"It puts you on the national map," said Mark Platts, a local proponent of the national designation. Visitors would be more likely to come to the region "and hopefully leave some of their money behind."
A national heritage area, while not a national park, falls under the National Parks Service. The parks service's function is advisory, and local control over land-use remains in place.
Casey's bill seeks up to $10 million over 10 years in federal funding, "however the amount depends on the actions of the Appropriations Committee and is traditionally less than that," said Casey spokeswoman Alex Miller.
Platts said the typical annual funding for a heritage area is $100,000 to $300,000. Federal funds must have a local match.
The Susquehanna Gateway idea is not new. Casey has sponsored the bill in each session since 2008. The bill twice got hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks but went no farther.
Miller said the senator is optimistic the bill this time will gain broad bipartisan support.
"We are encouraged by statements of support we've received over the past year," she said.
The push for a national designation came from Wrightsville-based Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area, which is one of 12 regions designated by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The state-designated area is comprised of Lancaster and York counties. Platts is president of the nonprofit.
The group submitted a 60-page feasibility study in 2008, and the National Park Service found it met the criteria for potential national designation. The study notes that the two-county region is home to 334 National Register of Historic Places and 49 National Register Historic Districts.
Platts said Rep. Pat Meehan, a Republican whose district now includes eastern Lancaster County, has expressed interest in sponsoring a bill in the House. Platts said Rep. Joe Pitts, a Republican whose districts includes the rest of Lancaster County, has not been interested in introducing legislation. Nor has Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
Pennsylvania is no stranger to national heritage areas. It has all or parts of seven national heritage areas: Journey Through Hallowed Ground, Delaware & Lehigh, Lackawanna, Oil Region, Path of Progress, Rivers of Steel and Schuylkill River Valley.
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