Butler County joins steel heritage area

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Butler County officially has been accepted into the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, which could mean a financial boost for tourism and preservation projects in the county.

"This new funding source will help Butler County preserve and celebrate its strong industrial heritage," said retired Butler County Judge Martin O'Brien, chairman of the Butler County Rivers of Steel steering committee and a member of the Rivers of Steel board of directors.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources approved an amendment to the boundaries of the heritage area to include Butler County.

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, one of 27 national heritage areas created by Congress to encourage the preservation and promotion of historic and scenic areas, focuses on the role of steel in forging the region's history. Created in 1996, the effort fosters community revitalization through capitalizing on cultural tourism related to the history and impact of steel.

The Rivers of Steel area also includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Augie Carlino, president of the nonprofit Steel Industry Heritage Group, which manages the heritage area, said in a statement that Butler County "will receive the benefit of being branded with the Rivers of Steel marketing of the heritage area."

He added: "Rivers of Steel is a strong part of southwestern Pennsylvania's economic development strategy to make this region a leading tourist destination. Butler County's involvement will enhance the tourism offerings of the overall region."

He has endorsed the addition of the county to the region virtually since the beginning and has said that it should have been part of the area when it was originally created, but somehow was left off.

Butler County boasts a range of historical sites related in some way to steel: Pullman Standard, where railroad cars were manufactured; the former Armco Steel Co.; the American Bantam Car Co., which manufactured the first Jeeps; and the Saxonburg area, home of John Roebling, who designed the Brooklyn Bridge.

Being an official part of the heritage area gives Butler County's historical and economic development groups a crack at federal funding for projects that cultivate heritage preservation, especially those that tell the history of steel in the county. Since authorization of the Heritage Act in 1996, the region has received more than $10 million in National Heritage Area funds that has been used to leverage another $35 million in public or private funding.

Jack Cohen, director of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, said he was pleased to see the county take its rightful place in the heritage area.

"For us, it's simple. This means we're finally getting on the map when it comes to showing the role Butler County played in this region's rich steel history," he said.

Karen Kane can be reached at kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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