Project enhances heritage-based tourism

Forest county

A yearlong Mercyhurst University public history project intended to draw attention to the rich industrial and cultural tradition of Forest County and enhance heritage-based tourism is coming to fruition.

The project began in the spring of 2012 under the direction of environmental and public historian Chris Magoc, Ph.D., chair of the Mercyhurst History Department, with 2012 public history graduate Melora Whalen and 2013 grad Chelsea Morris. They partnered with Julia McCray, manager of the Forest County Visitor Center in Tionesta and on staff at the PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau.

The finished project, which is expected to be unveiled next month, features a permanent wall-mounted poster display to be housed in the visitor center along with a brochure that will lead tourists through a self-guided tour of eight of Forest County’s historic sites. The sites will be marked with interpretive signage. Mercyhurst provided the research and crafted much of the narrative for the materials, which focused 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.

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.”

“Forest County has such a richly layered environmental, cultural and industrial history — one that embodies in many ways the story of the nation over three centuries,” Magoc said. “I was delighted that my students and I could be part of helping to research and present that history to the public.  I think visitors will find the driving tour brochure and the interpretive markers engaging and compelling."  

McCray said she is planning on hosting an open house at the center sometime in June to unveil the project.

Meanwhile, Magoc said Mercyhurst’s public history concentration is the fastest growing track within the university’s history department, and students are enjoying success in finding rewarding careers. He noted several of interest:

Hannah Merrill (2013) – interpretive specialist at the historic Eastern State Penitentiary near Philadelphia (a National Landmark/penal institution which dates to 1821).  

Beth Kostrencic (2011) – works with Visitor Services in the Office of the Architect, U.S. Capitol.

Steve Bukowski (2012) – interpreter at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo.

Beth McMullen (2010) – director of the Greenbrier Historical Society and North House Museum in W. Va.

Kaitlin Ammon (2009) – director of the Sam Bell Maxey Site in Paris, Texas.

Magoc noted that public history graduates are finding positions in museums, historic sites and heritage tourism — the latter among the fastest growing sectors of the tourism economy.  “The beginning of the summer travel season is a reminder that Americans love their history and it is rewarding to me that students who come to Mercyhurst can gain the skills needed to be part of researching and presenting that history to the public,” he said.


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