Northeast Ohio's historic Western Reserve is worthy of designation as a new federal national heritage area, but such a designation is not being recommended, according to a National Park Service study.
The 14-county area, including Akron, Cleveland and Youngstown, has sufficient historical, natural, recreational and cultural resources of national significance to qualify for such a designation, but it is lacking a definitive coordinating entity or supporting group, park service planner Rory Robinson said.
That makes such a designation ''not feasible at this time,'' he said.
Local partners may push to organize the Western Reserve as a regional initiative but without the federal designation, he said.
''There was disappointment, but not disagreement'' with his findings among the parties involved, Robinson said.
The biggest problem was that the proposed federal designation won ''broad interest but not strong community support and investment,'' said Dan Rice of
the Akron-based Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition who was involved in the study. ''Everyone liked the idea, but no one stepped forward to take ownership. . . . It has to be locally driven, and that was what is missing.''
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, first proposed the federal designation for the 14-county region in 2004. It was the subject of a series of public meetings in early 2010.
Robinson's report will be the subject of two public meetings: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. March 23 at Lorain Community College in Elyria and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. March 24 at the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy in Rootstown Township.
The report will be available March 28 to the public at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=27752. Go to the Western Reserve Heritage Feasibility Study project page. From that site, you can access the full report and submit comments.
That will open a 30-day public comment period that runs through April 29.
After those comments are compiled into an appendix, the final 100-page report will be submitted to Congress, which had directed the park service to conduct a feasibility study.
The proposed designation would have made the Western Reserve the 50th national heritage area in the United States.
One of those 50 is the Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway that runs from Cleveland through Akron and Canton to New Philadelphia. Ohio's other heritage area is the National Aviation Heritage Area in Dayton.
Ryan's proposal would have covered Summit, Portage, Medina, Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Geauga, Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, Huron, Erie, Ottawa and Ashland counties and could have brought federal funds for historic preservation, economic development and recreation.
The Western Reserve was analyzed as the nation's ''town square'' and had a story of national significance, Robinson said.
Assisting on his study were the Ohio Historical Society and the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail/Sea Grant. A local steering committee of more than 20 regional planners, economic development specialists, preservation experts and park resource managers also assisted.
Robinson and Rice both said it is unclear whether the Western Reserve might quality for federal designation in the future, especially if strong local support surfaces.
''There are just too many unknowns,'' Rice said of such a possibility.
For more information, contact Robinson at 330-657-2951 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.