When the Forest County Visitor Center unveils its latest initiative designed to enhance heritage-based tourism in the region on Oct. 10, Mercyhurst University History Department Chair Chris Magoc, Ph.D., will be there representing the university and students who helped make it happen.
The visitor center has slated an open house and unveiling for 2 p.m. at its headquarters, 422 Elm St., Tionesta.
The finished project features a permanent wall-mounted poster display housed in the visitor center along with a brochure that leads tourists on a self-guided tour of eight of Forest County’s historic sites. The sites are marked with interpretive signage. Mercyhurst provided the research and crafted much of the narrative for the materials, which focuses on the centuries-long Native American presence in the region continuing through the early pioneer settlements and extending into the boom years of the lumber industry and development of tourism.
The project began in the spring of 2012 under the direction of Magoc, an environmental and public historian, and students Melora Whalen and Chelsea Morris, who graduated in 2012 and 2013, respectively. They partnered with Julia McCray, manager of the Forest County Visitor Center in Tionesta and on staff at the PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau.
Situated between two nationally designated Wild & Scenic Rivers with nearly half of its land mass a part of the Allegheny National Forest, Forest County is a well-known tourist destination for outdoor recreation and attractions such as Cook Forest State Park.
“Over the past several decades we have seen a change in the demographics of our tourism industry, going from mainly hunters, fishermen and families to include more young professionals and baby-boomers who enjoy the recreation and small-town atmosphere,” McCray said. “Because they are interested in the arts, culture and history, we are seeing more requests at the visitor center for information on local history. We’re hoping the new project can help us meet that demand.”
McCray said the project was funded by a $5,000 grant from the Lumber Heritage Region and matched by National Fuel Gas Co. and Seneca Resources Corp., which each contributed $2,500. Mercyhurst University also contributed $1,000 through a Mercyhurst Faculty-Guided Student Research grant, as well as countless hours of research, writing and graphic design work.
“The amount of help we got from Chris and his students at Mercyhurst was tremendous,” McCray said. “I think the display in the visitor center is going to be of great interest and draw a good percentage of people to go out and learn more about the place they are visiting.”