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Oil Heritage Region spearheading two new projects in Venango County
By JUDITH O. ETZEL


THE WORK INVOLVES ESTABLISHING FOUR VISITORS CENTERS AND EXAMINING WHETHER SCENIC OVERLOOKS SHOULD BE DEVELOPED HERE.

Two new projects, both designed to emphasize this region's history and recreational opportunities, are in the works in Venango County.

Marilyn Black, director of the Oil Heritage Region Inc., the lead agency in promoting those two ventures, outlined efforts to establish four visitors centers in the county and to examine whether scenic overlooks should be developed here.

"The design of the first visitors center, set for Emlenton, has been completed and we're very excited about it," Black said Wednesday at a county commissioners workshop.

The center, which will include exhibits as well as a wide offering of tourist brochures, maps and more, is pegged for the first floor hallway area inside the Crawford Center. The center, formerly a public school, has been converted into a multi-tenant complex offering municipal services, retail and service shops, a museum and agency offices.

"The theme will be Blue River/Black Gold, capitalizing on the Allegheny River and the oil industry," Black said. "It will specifically focus on Emlenton's history, including Native Americans, river traffic and iron industry, natural gas industry, refining, Quaker State and more."

Black said fund-raising is under way to raise money for the center, and those being specifically tapped for money are Crawford School alumni, charitable trusts and industries that had a presence or effect on Emlenton, including National Fuel Gas, Columbia Gas and Quaker State/Pennzoil. Bids to construct the center will be advertised in November.

Other visitors centers will be located in the Perry Street Station at Titusville, the former Weaver Garage building in Oil City and a yet to be determined site in Franklin.

Oil Heritage Region Inc. also is applying for a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to study whether scenic overlooks should be established in Venango County.

Black said the concept is unusual.

"We think it provides a slightly different spin to offer to travelers and tourists by giving an overview of specific places. It allows the viewer to see the whole picture, but does not disturb the object being viewed. The department told us, when we suggested it, that no one has proposed this concept before," Black said.

She said the first stage will be to obtain state monies to have a feasibility study done. A decision on whether that can occur will be made in the spring.

In response to a question as to the status of a federal bill designating the Oil Creek Valley as a national heritage park, Black said the issue is stalled in the U.S. Senate. At stake is some $10 million in federal funding over the next decade to enhance tourist and heritage work already under way. The U.S. House has approved the bill.

"The clock is ticking. If the Senate doesn't take action by Dec. 31, we will have to start over from scratch," Black said. "It rests with Washington and we have asked them not to forget about it but they get to pick and choose."

The Oil Heritage Region agency recently received a $380,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Heritage Parks program to promote tourism and economic development.

In addition to management and administrative costs, the money will be used for the following projects:

Install navigational signs in the Oil Heritage Region

Restore the interior of the Coal Oil Johnny House in Cornplanter Township

Develop 10 indoor kiosks for the visitor orientation center and other major sites in the Oil Creek Valley

Rehabilitate the Titusville Redevelopment Authority building

Develop a dozen interpretive trail signs along existing trails in Cranberry Township

Improve safety and add educational components to the Kennerdell overlook in Rockland Township

Develop outdoor interpretive signs, walking tour brochures and promotional materials for Titusville

Create a traveling photo display, "Oil from the Ground Up."

Develop a canoe landing and parking area on the east bank of the Allegheny River in President

Preserve early memorabilia from the Oil City Gas Co. and its successors

Develop a preservation plan for the Egbert Oil Co. office in Oil Creek State Park

Conduct a survey on visitors' lodging needs in the region

Study the recreational use of trails in the region