Heritage Area bill introduced

Legislation to reauthorize federal designation of the Oil Region National Heritage Area was introduced on the very soil it’s intended to benefit.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-5th District, announced the bill he is sponsoring during a news conference at the historic Tarbell House in Titusville on Friday.

The Oil Region was designated by Congress as a National Heritage Area in 2004.

The designation has helped bring in more than $3 million in federal money to help with preservation, education and recreational development in the Oil Region, according to Oil Region Alliance President John Phillips, whose agency oversees the National Heritage Area.

Thompson’s bill would reauthorize designation through 2026. There is a similar bill under consideration in a Senate committee.

“We roughly receive $300,000 a year from the feds,” Phillips said. “For every dollar that the National Parks Service invests in the Oil Region National Heritage Area, we multiply that by $2.54 by combining our other financial resources that we bring in.”

Those resources, Phillips said, include the state, foundations, membership in the ORA and income from assets.

“Not all National Heritage areas get extended,” ORA Vice President of Heritage Development Marilyn Black said. “There is a significant set of resources that have been available since 2004 that, if the bill is passed, will continue to be available.

“Because we have federal funding, the ORA is able to provide municipalities with technical assistance, such as help and advice on where to go for funding sources, serving as a consultant without cost. If we can’t help them directly, we find partners who can help them.”

Phillips said if reauthorization were to be denied, the domino effect would be less federal funding for Oil Region projects.

Some entities that have benefited from funding are the trail associations, various historical museums, University of Pittsburgh at Titusville, Clarion University of Pennsylvania and several municipalities.

“To appreciate all that the ORA does for our community, look no further than this beautiful house that we’ve gathered at to announce this bill,” Thompson said at the news conference. “This was the home of the legendary investigative journalist Ida Tarbell. The ORA recently completed a full restoration of this historic home.”

Joining Thompson at the news conference were U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-3rd District; leaders of the Oil Region Alliance; and local elected officials.

The Oil Region is one of 49 National Heritage Areas across the country and the only one that is centered around the oil and gas industry.

The 708-square-mile area of Venango and eastern Crawford counties holds the distinction of being the birthplace of the petroleum industry, beginning with Edwin Drake’s drilling of the world’s first commercial oil well in 1859.

“When we understand and appreciate our past, it helps us to be confident going into the future,” Phillips said.