May 25--Five National Park Service sites in western Pennsylvania illustrate not only the agency's mission of preservation, but the region's rich and diverse role in American history.
"I think they are incredibly important statements by our nation that these events are so important to us that we set them aside and let future generations experience them," said Jeff Reinbold, the park service superintendent for western Pennsylvania.
He oversees the Flight 93 and Johnstown Flood national memorials, Allegheny Portage Railroad and Friendship Hill national historic sites and Fort Necessity National Battlefield.
"The National Park Service preserves America's special places," Reinbold said. "When you look at all the places, whether historical or scenic resources, it really tells the American story."
Joanne Hanley was Reinbold's predecessor as superintendent. She is now president of the Gettysburg Foundation.
"It is the mission of the National Park Service to preserve these places for future generations so they can learn about them," Hanley said. "The Johnstown Flood, Flight 93, Civil War battlefields, and all of these sites, are important pieces of our history."
Touch the history
The five western Pennsylvania sites draw 750,000 visitors a year, pumping $25 million direct visitor spending into the local economy for Flight 93 and Johnstown Flood National Memorial alone, Reinbold said.
People come to touch the history, he said.
"Most National Park Service memorials preserve the actual ground where the event happened," Reinbold said. "People can walk on the remnants of the dam. They can go to Flight 93 and see the field where the plane crashed and see the trees that were burned.
"It makes them more real and powerful. These are places where people can come to pay their respects."
'An amazing place'
The national significance of the events being preserved draw some visitors, Hanley said.
"Western Pennsylvania is an amazing place," she said. "There is so much rich and deep historical significance. The French and Indian War started in western Pennsylvania. The Industrial Revolution blossomed here.
"Its rich; it's ripe; it's history. We should all be very proud of it."
Those who worked to preserve the actual locations of the events deserve the nation's gratitude, Hanley said, naming the late Rep. John Murtha for his efforts with the flood memorial and Flight 93 site.
"People know when they go to a national park, they're going to see something that's authentic," Hanley said. "They are going to see the actual place where history happened, no matter what type of event it was. That's very different from a museum somewhere in a city."
'Now and forever'
Flight 93 illustrates the importance, she said.
"They remember 9/11," Hanley said. "They remember where they were. They remember what happened. It's an emotional experience to visit these sites."
President Barack Obama spoke earlier this month about the importance of preserving the memories of those lost in historic events during dedication ceremonies for National Sept. 11 Museum at ground zero in New York City.
"Those we lost live on in us," Obama said. "In the families who love them still. In the friends who remember them always. And in a nation that will honor them, now and forever."
Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.
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