Rive Boat

Officials ride in the Susquehanna River Discovery Tours pontoon boat as it approaches Columbia River Park on June 7.

THE ISSUE:

Federal, state and local officials were among the passengers on last week’s inaugural River Discovery Boat Tour water shuttle, celebrating the Susquehanna National Heritage Area designation signed into law in March by President Donald Trump. The water shuttle is the first program under the designation, with pontoon boat tours set to begin in July.

“We finally did it,” Mark Platts said at the June 7 event.

Platts had every right to be jubilant; as president of the heritage area nonprofit, he spearheaded advocacy efforts to earn the federal designation for 11 years.

And we’re as thrilled as he is to see those efforts come to fruition.

The designation will allow the heritage area to use National Park Service branding and access national appropriation dollars of about $300,000 toward Lancaster and York counties’ ecotourism efforts.

In its pilot year, the water shuttle program occasionally will ferry people from the Zimmerman Center for Heritage in Wrightsville to the Columbia Crossing River Trails Center in Columbia, directly connecting York and Lancaster counties. It will run twice per week in 2019 to teach Native American and early American history.

The boat most frequently will travel in a one-hour loop with 10 to 12 passengers to and from the Zimmerman Center. More details will be released when it launches next month.

The water shuttle, in partnership with Long Level Marina, will cost about $18,000 for its first year and $34,000 the following year, to be paid by the Park Service and state grant funding, Platts told LNP.

“We envision the Susquehanna Riverlands as a nationally recognized destination for outdoor fun and cultural discovery,” the website explains, and will “work to enhance quality of life and economic vitality by promoting the preservation, conservation and interpretation of the river’s cultural and natural heritage.”

The area was already a state heritage region, and we hope the federal designation brings even more tourists and tourism dollars to the Borough of Columbia, providing an economic stimulus.

“Our programs and projects focus on tourism development that increases the visibility and readiness of the river as a visitor destination,” the website notes.

The early signs in Columbia are encouraging, according to Claire Storm, 80, a former elementary school principal in Manheim Central School District who founded the River Town Program in 2001 after her retirement. She’s been working on programs to improve the Susquehanna River, including advocacy for the new national designation.

“I think it’s going to be such an economic boom,” Storm told McGoldrick.

Among the officials onboard the new water shuttle was Congressman Lloyd Smucker, who was joined later at the celebration by U.S. Sen Bob Casey. In 2008, Casey first introduced legislation to designate the area. He kept reintroducing the bill until it passed the Senate in mid-February as part of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. Smucker participated in the effort after he was elected to Congress, obtained House approval last year, and helped the Dingell Act pass the House in late February.

It’s the 55th U.S. location to be designated a National Heritage Area.

Lancaster and York counties “have a rivalry,” Kevin Schreiber, the York County Economic Alliance president, said at the celebration. “We will continue to have a rivalry. But we all have the Susquehanna.”

The federal National Heritage Area designation was long overdue. But now that it’s in place, the Susquehanna River, its historic towns and all they offer will finally be getting the promotion they deserve.

We’ve never understood why Lancaster County made so little of its proximity to the Susquehanna. The river should be a draw not just for those who fish and boat, but for those who might enjoy a riverfront arts festival or riverfront dining or riverfront walks. Let’s hope we see more of this in the years to come.