Members of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR) met at the Bradford County Tourism Promotion Agency in Towanda on Dec 6. Others, including representatives of Point Heritage Development Consultants (PointHDC), participated via Zoom.
Utilizing funding from the state, the EMHR hired PointHDC to perform a feasibility study that will determine whether this Heritage Area can achieve how the EMHR can achieve the prestigious distinction of being a National Heritage Area, which would bring significant attention and prominence to Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties. The process is meticulous and the timeline unpredictable, finalized by a literal act of Congress.
“This is not an application process. It is a political process,” said Augie Carlino, a PointHDC associate and executive director of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area in Homestead, near Pittsburgh. Carlino emphasized the importance of EMHR’s NHA Advisory Committee members to get “deeply involved in the process in Washington” by getting Pennsylvania’s U.S. congressmen and senators on board as soon as possible. The EMHR would be the 63rd NHA in the United States and the seventh in Pennsylvania, which has the most NHAs in the country.
The PointHDC representatives are well-versed in the process, having successfully brought the esteemed designation to numerous organizations over the past decade. Lead consultant Dr. Nancy Morgan served as executive director of the Cane River National Heritage Area in Louisiana and is a graduate in history and anthropology from Colgate University. Peter Samuel is retired from the National Park Service and serves as the National Heritage Manager for the Northeast Region of the U.S., which contains 26 NHAs.
After introductions by the EMHR associates in attendance, Morgan acknowledged the diversity of the EMHR’s membership as one of many assets the organization has coming into the process. She also noted that Pennsylvania has the most NHAs because its state Heritage Association, Heritage PA, has created such a solid foundation to further enhance its 12 existing Heritage Areas. This includes the EMHR, whose executive director Cain Chamberlin already serves as board president of Heritage PA. Additional partners will include the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and representatives from the National Park Service (NPS).
Subcommittees will be formed to address various elements of the process. They would be tasked with identifying the EMHR’s most substantial assets and defining the “national story” that would impress enough members of Congress when a bill is eventually introduced.
The results of achieving NHA status would include preservation of historical sites within the region and making them drivers for economic growth. The goal, Morgan explained, is to use the NHA designation to “showcase, enhance and advance what’s already going on.” In addition to attracting people to the area, the NHA designation would lead to educational programs in schools from elementary through the college and university levels. It would also provide additional funding for expansion of the EMHR staff to meet the needs of a growing organization.
The PointHDC associates stressed the importance of getting state, county and municipal leaders, and the public on board with the initiative and helping both residents and other heritage partners understand what becoming an NHA does and doesn’t mean. “There will be no impact on private property rights, including water, hunting and fishing,” Carlino stated. “Congress has specifically prohibited that.”
Nonetheless, he stressed that the NHA initiative, which got another shot in the arm from Congress in early 2023, is incredibly non-partisan. “Congress has really latched onto this process and endorsed it,” Carlino related.
The next step will include a visit by the PointHDC team to the four-county area from Jan. 16 to 19, 2024. They will meet together and separately with EMHR NHA Advisory Committee members and have set Jan. 18 as a tentative date for a public meeting at a time and location yet to be determined.
“We at the EMHR are incredibly excited to begin this feasibility study with PointHDC and our committee members. We are confident that are beautiful and historic four-county region possesses many stories of national significance as well as other key elements that embody a National Heritage Area,” said Chamberlin. “With a well-rounded advisory committee and the help of our friends at PointHDC, we expect to complete this feasibility study within a year’s time. The study will determine whether we have the traits and capacity needed to pursue this prestigious designation. It is our hope that we also have the needed support of our residents and our legislators to make this dream of becoming a National Heritage Area a reality.”