STATEMENT OF BRENDA BARRETT, NATIONAL COORDINATOR FOR HERITAGE AREAS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1441 AND H.R. 695, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE OIL REGION NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA.

 

APRIL 18, 2002

 

 

 

 


Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department’s views on S. 1441 and H.R. 695, bills which would establish the Oil Region National Heritage Area.

 

While the Department recognizes the appropriateness of designating the Oil Region National Heritage Area, we recommend that the committee defer action on S. 1441 and H.R. 695 during the remainder of the 107th Congress. To meet the President’s Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog, we need to continue to focus our resources on caring for existing areas in the National Park System. While designation of the heritage area will not result in additional acquisition or capital costs, the authorization provides for up to $1 million per year in grant assistance costs not to exceed $10 million over the 15-year period after the date of the bill’s enactment.

 

The Oil Heritage region comprises all of Venango County and a portion of Crawford County in western Pennsylvania.  It is known, appropriately, as “The Valley That Changed the World” due to the first successful oil well drilled by Colonel Edwin Drake with the assistance of William Smith, a Pennsylvania salt well digger, in 1859. This event had an overriding impact on the industrial revolution and continues to affect the daily life of the nation and the world.

 

The region contains the world renowned Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Oil Creek State Park and portions of the Allegheny Wild and Scenic River, the latter designated by Congress in 1992, and administered by the U.S. Forest Service. It also contains 6 National Historic Districts, 17 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places and an extensive collection of Victorian styled architecture in Franklin, Oil City, Emlenton and Titusville. Remnants of the oil boom era, including McClintock Well #1, the oldest operating well in the United States, can be found throughout the region. The stories of early oil magnates and those who worked in the oil fields provide exceptionally rich interpretive opportunities related to the region’s natural and cultural resources. This important heritage contributes not only to our own national story, but also to the advancement of industries and transportation systems throughout the world.

 

Oil Heritage Region is currently designated a State Heritage Park by the State of Pennsylvania and its management entity, the Oil Heritage Region, Inc., is experienced in natural and cultural resources preservation and heritage related programming. The management entity enjoys the support of local governments and organizations in the proposed national heritage area. Its board of directors is already representative of many interests in the region. The bill provides that the Secretary will confirm its expanded representation in approving the required management plan for the heritage area.

 

In the opinion of the National Park Service there are four critical steps that need to be taken and documented prior to the Congress designating a heritage area. These stages are:

 

    1. completion of a suitability/feasibility study;
    2. public involvement in the suitability/feasibility study;
    3. demonstration of widespread public support among heritage area residents for the proposed designation; and
    4. commitment to the proposal from the appropriate players which may include governments, industry, and private, non-profit organizations, in addition to the local citizenry.

 

The National Park Service has reviewed the existing heritage and interpretive plans undertaken by Oil Region Heritage, Inc. beginning in 1994 and, at the request of Congressman John Peterson, conducted a week-long reconnaissance visit to confirm the region’s eligibility for designation in early August 2000. A feasibility report entitled “Field Report on the Oil Region Heritage Park, Pennsylvania, as a National Heritage Area” was issued subsequent to the reconnaissance visit on September 15, 2000.  It concludes that the Oil Heritage Region meets the above-listed feasibility criteria for designation as a national heritage area.

 

That completes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or any of the members of the subcommittee may have.