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Heritage Areas Draw Visitors, Boost Economy

January 24, 2024 12:00 AM
By: David Maher, DCNR Heritage Areas Coordinator

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​Heritage Areas are places where historic, cultural, natural, and recreational resources combine to form important landscapes that help tell the stories of indigenous cultures, the nation and the Commonwealth, and our communities.

This year marks 35 years since the establishment of the Pennsylvania Heritage Areas Program in 1989.  

Initially called “Heritage Parks,” the pro​​gram has five overarching goals: 

  • Economic development
  • Partnerships
  • Cultural/heritage conservation
  • Recreation and open space
  • Education and interpretation

Launched after a decade of planning, the program now includes 12 regions that span 57 of 67 counties, crossing boundaries to connect places that share common themes in Pennsylvania’s continuing story.

A building of historic looking contruction stands along a residential street. A metal sign on a post with text stands in front.
Tarbell House, Oil Region National Heritage Area​.

In 1995, Act 18 (PDF)​ that created the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) said Pennsylvania’s “heritage conservation areas…,” in addition to our state parks and forests and community recreation, “…contributes greatly to the quality of life of Pennsylvania’s citizens and the economic well-being of the state.”

DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation administers the Pennsylvania Heritage Areas Program.

Economic Impact of Pennsylvania Heritage Areas

A wide vista view of a stee pmountai ngorge and rolling forests. A river snakes through the valley below.
Pine Creek Gorge, Lumber Heritage Region, Pennsylvania Route 6 Heritage Corridor.

Tourists spent an estimated 7.5 million days and nights in Pennsylvania’s Heritage Areas, purchasing more than $2 billion worth of goods and services, according to a report from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (PDF).

The total contribution of heritage visitor spending to the state economy was 25,708 jobs and $798 million in labor income.

According to recent updates to the statewide outdoor recreation plan, heritage-based outdoor recreation consistently ranks among Pennsylvanians’ favorite outdoor activities, further highlighting the legacy, impact, and important work of the Pennsylvania Heritage Areas Program.

2024 Pennsylvania Heritage Area Events

Delaware Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Event.jpg
Get Your Tail on the Trail event, Delaware Canal State Park. Photo credit: Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

There are several Heritage Area programs and events planned for early in 2024 that provide insight into how they highlight the heritage, natural, and recreational resources of Pennsylvania. Here are a few:

Allegheny Ridge Heritage Area

The Stony-Kiski-Conemaugh Rivers Sojourn (June 6-9) covers 44 river miles from Johnstown to Apollo along the borders of Somerset, Cambria, Westmoreland, Indiana, and Armstrong counties, through Conemaugh and Packsaddle Gaps with stops at heritage-rich communities like Blairsville and Avonmore, and a visit to Saltsburg’s Historic Canal Days Festival.

Registration will open in early spring and includes meals and shuttling.

The West Penn Trail Triathlon (October 12) is a boat-bike-run, chip timed event that is competitive enough to draw enthusiasts from nine states but welcoming enough for those new to the sport.

Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor

The Get Your Tail on the Trail events (throughout the year) is the Lehigh Valley’s premier outdoor health initiative.

With the 165-mile-long D&L Trail as a resource, these events motivate citizens to transform their health one mile at a time, all while soaking up the history and heritage of the surrounding landscape.

Lackawanna Heritage Valley National Heritage Area

The Heritage Ambassador events (April and May) are a one-day rolling classroom that take guests to key heritage sites in the Lackawanna Valley to educate, enlighten, and create a sense of pride and excitement about the area.

Stops include: the Electric City Trolley Station and Museum, Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton’s Courthouse Square, the Scranton Cultural Center, the Lackawanna Historical Society, Nay Aug Park, the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour, the Everhart Museum, and the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum.

Lumber Heritage Region

Celebrate World Wood Day and International Forests Day (March 21-24) at Woodfest 2024, a festival of events to raise awareness of the role wood plays in a sustainable world through biodiversity and forest conservation.

The Bark Peelers and Woodhicks Festival at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum (July 6-7) features heritage-based recreation events, contests, demonstrations, food, and music that celebrate the history of the region and the historic lumber industry.

Oil Region National Heritage Area

The Drake Well Museum’s “Wisdom and Wine” speaker series “Political Cartoons of the Oil Region” (March 7) features 19th century political cartoons with an emphasis on how the oil industry of that period was depicted, with a focus on journalist Ida Tarbell, who grew up in the Oil Region.

Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area​

The Schuylkill River Trail Spree (April 20), in partnership with Sly Fox Brewery, celebrates Earth Day with a series of recreational events and trail cleanups, including the Schuylkill River Trail 50k Race.

Kayak or canoe sections or the entire Schuylkill River on this week-long Schuylkill River Sojourn (June 15-21).

To stay up to date on these events and more, follow Pennsylvania’s 12 Heritage Areas online or sign up for their newsletters.

Links to Heritage Area websites are found on the DCNR website. Learn more in the Pennsylvania Heritage Areas video​.

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