Susquehanna National Heritage Area
There are some questions in the air about what a National Heritage Area is, exactly.
We recently had a wonderful chat with a local 11 year old on the topic and we thought it might help clear the air.
Setting the scene;
-We are excited, "11 year old is not sold."
After trying since 2008, it finally happened. In March 2019 the areas of York and Lancaster Counties surrounding the Susquehanna River were officially designated the nations 55th National Heritage area.
-After 10 years in the making, the Susquehanna National Heritage area is finally taking shape!
"So, what does that mean?"
-It's kind of a big deal.
National Heritage areas are places where historical, cultural, and natural resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.
"That's a mouthful."
-That's fair, let us explain.
It's obvious why some places are designated as National Parks, the dazzling features like Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon. Untouched landscapes are pristine and preserve wildlife habitats, where we can spot majestic wolves and bison roaming free. Somber battle fields so rich in history we protect them at all costs. It's universally clear why these places are important. They are protected and preserved, we recognize their value.
"Like our trip to the Smokey Mountains National Park! But it doesn't look like that around here.."
- Hang in there. Stay with us.
National Heritage areas are more complex. Sometimes the reason an area is nationally important, isn't so clear. A National Heritage area designation recognizes a place for it's unique contribution to our nations story. Usually a combination of the locations history, culture, and landscape come together to create a special chapter that shaped, even subtly who we've become today, as a nation. If that chapter were missing, the book would be wildly different.
"Hmm. That does sound important, but what makes where we live so special?"
-We might not be the best people to ask but.... We thought you'd never ask! We don't want to lose you, so We'll try to breeze through some of the highlights.. (Sucks in deep breath)
Native Americans used the Susquehanna River and its tributaries for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. The Susquehanna river (or the muddy river) was home to the Susquehannock, they were the largest tribe in the area, but there were serval other known tribes. John Smith journeyed briefly on the Susquehanna river and met with the Susquehannock tribe in what is known as present day Lancaster County. (THE John Smith right here where WE live, no big deal.) Cairns, burial grounds, and artifacts can still be found today. The stories and local folklore are never ending. (Each town has their own, we are always learning new ones!)
Settlement and development turned the area into a springboard for commerce and travel. Early travel was all about the rails, and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad was running 82 miles from West Philly to Columbia. Those rails were running hot back then, distributing goods westward. It's canals (you can still spot them), railroads, shad runs, rafts of timber and iron furnaces (some still present today) held such economic power that the town of Columbia was almost the nations capitol! (lost by 1 vote in Congress) A once booming area slowly gave way to a new age. (We skipped so much!) You can still see the evidence of that history everywhere, rail road bridges, tunnels, canals and you can still hear that iconic train whistle!
The largest covered bridge once stood between Columbia and Wrightsville spanning the Susquehanna River. During the Civil war, as the Confederates marched north, a small cavalry and some towns people were left to guard the bridge while the Union went to Gettysburg to meet the Confederate army. (Assuming that's where they would cross the river. Turns out some of them were going to cross that fancy covered bridge!) The covered bridge was torched to prevent the Confederate advance and forced them to the next crossing, and the rest is well, history! And that's not the only time the Susquehanna river effected a war.
William Penn arrived and settled in the area in search of religious freedom. Pennsylvania is the second state, and has a profound history linked to religious freedom and the pursuit of happiness. (Our roads are laid out so nice, thank you! Breezing through is starting to hurt.)
The river was a gateway to the west! Even to this day the cultures are wildly different from Lancaster and York Counties. (Respectively. We got nothing but love for our neighbors! Mr. Rogers lives on!)
We are in Pennsylvania Dutch County. (This, we could talk about this forever.)
Have you seen the rocks around here? Natural resources, beauty and interesting features are our thing here in Pennsylvania. (There's also like, a lot of water... right, sorry only the highlights.) The rocks that the Appalachian Mountains are made out of is some of the oldest and hardest, and we have a ton of it! (Rock PUN.) The striking rocks, seen at all angles, with their layers out for you to examine at Chickies Rock County Park is a day trip to remember and repeat. (All the rock cycle feels.) Conoy White cliffs are a fabulous sight with an interesting story! The sculpted rocks and pot holes at the bottom of Conewango falls are something equally as amazing. (And a history you can SEE!)
-…to name a few
"I like living here, it's even cooler than I thought!"
- It really is!
"There are tons of National Parks, are there a lot of National Heritage Areas too? I bet there are a lot of places that are just as interesting as where we live."
-Well, currently there is only 55. It took over 10 years for the Susquehanna National Heritage Area to become official.
Every place has a unique story. Many places have contributed to our diverse history as a nation. That's why its so hard to be recognized as a National Heritage area. Securing a National Heritage designation is no easy task.
You have to prove a location, based on its value and significance in crafting national traditions, is special enough to be coveted and protected. A National Heritage area designation, is like your family heritage, it's where you come from, but you have to earn it. It's an honor that secures and ensures that future generations will get a chance to understand its importance.
"Sounds like a big deal."
-I told you!
"Will it change the way things are around here? I don't think I'd like that."
-Well, yes and no. It won't be different in the ways you are imagining. It will always be the same unique community. We just get to share it with more people!
National Heritage areas are an umbrella service of the National Park system however, a National Heritage area is not federal property. The National Park service does not manage what heritage areas do, the communities do.
Unlike the National Park Service, National Heritage areas are established in long lived in communities. The National Park Service collaborates with communities to serve local interests and needs. Although it is a designation that highlights the best of what our area has to offer in outdoor fun, cultural discovery and uncovering history!
The Susquehanna National Heritage area will enhance quality and appeal to the special places and landscapes, as well as enhance tourism in the area. Providing opportunity and development to become a tourist destination. Laying foundations that can create future economic sustainability.
-Don't expect it to change overnight though.
"That's exciting! Will there be new cool places to visit?"
- I think we will have fun rediscovering and learning new things about some of our favorite places. Yes, probably some new businesses too. More trails and green spaces to explore would be way cool!
Preparing to share takes time.
Let the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail take you on a tour of the Susquehanna National Heritage Area.