It looks as if the proposal to designate much of northern Ohio as a National Heritage Area won’t get congressional support.
That’s what’s recommended in the final draft of a report on the year-long Western Reserve Heritage Feasibility Study.
The report, which is being presented at town hall meetings today and Thursday, shows the 14-county Western Reserve region of Ohio, which includes Medina County, has characteristics that may warrant the conservation efforts that accompany National Heritage Areas. However, the report said there is no clear group to step forward to head the efforts.
“It has the story and it has the resources that support that story. Where we fell a little bit short is in the ability to oversee and operate a heritage area,” said Rory Robinson, a National Parks Service employee who oversaw the study.
According to the committee that researched the proposal, a National Heritage Area is a designation from the federal government to “celebrate and interpret unique natural, historical, recreational and cultural resources and traditions of a region.”
There are 49 National Heritage Areas throughout the country. Two are in Ohio: the Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Canal Way which spans Tuscarawas and Cuyahoga counties, and the National Aviation Heritage Area in Dayton.
The areas have access to various resources. For example, each heritage area has a coordinating group that receives about $1 million annually for 10 years from the federal government.
The group also engages in planning efforts and projects focused on conservation of the region’s culture, resources and other aspects.
The Western Reserve portion of Ohio was once part of the colony of Connecticut. After the Revolutionary War, new states were asked to give up their western claims in exchange for forgiveness of state debt. However, Connecticut held out on a 3.5 million-acre reserve from the Pennsylvania border 120 miles west and from Lake Erie south to the 41st parallel.
According to the National Park Service, that land eventually was sold to the Connecticut Land Co. for $1.2 million, or 40 cents per acre. Gen. Moses Cleaveland, a shareholder in the Connecticut Land Co., led survey teams through the wilderness in 1796.
At first, the entire region was called Trumbull County, with Warren as the county seat. Additional counties were formed as populations grew.
According to the heritage feasibility study, the Western Reserve has set trends for the rest of the country since it was settled. For example, the report said its innovations allowed it to be a prominent manufacturing center of the country. Plus, its positioning along Lake Erie connected it with the rest of the world, bringing jobs, raw materials, people and ideas.
U.S. Rep Tim Ryan, D-Niles, sponsored legislation passed in 2006 that asked the National Park Service to do a feasibility study for a potential Western Reserve National Heritage Area. Funding for the study was approved in 2009.
A steering committee was formed to oversee the study, and it held public meetings throughout northern Ohio.2009.
“They were looking for a grassroots building of (support) and we did not see that. Even though we had umpteen public meetings, we did not get major numbers of people to come out and talk about it,” said Dan Hostetler, director of the Medina County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. He and County Commissioner Steve Hambley sat on the steering committee.
Hambley said that because a Heritage Area may be out of reach, it doesn’t mean there can’t be an organization that celebrates the Western Reserve.
“I would say at this point (the idea) is on life support. It’s not totally dead. It’s just a matter of looking for a regional agency that would be able to support it,” he said.
Hostetler said forming a Western Reserve organization without the National Heritage designation could offer some flexibility.
“We could steer it towards a tourism initiative, historical initiative. It could go a lot of different directions,” he said.
Plus, he added, the region could vie for national heritage status once the organization is formed and shows the support needed for the designation.
Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TAKE A LOOK
The final draft of the Western Reserve Heritage Feasibility Study will be posted on parkplanning.nps.gov /whrfnha on Monday, beginning a 30-day public comment period.
It also will be available at two town hall meetings:
• 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. today at the Entrepreneurship Innovation Center, Room 132 A&B, Lorain County Community College, 1005 N. Abbe Road, Elyria.
• 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the training room at the NEOUCOM Conference Center, 4209 state Route 44, Rootstown.