Funding will continue for Wheeling Heritage

WHEELING — The National Parks Service deemed Wheeling Heritage worthy of continued funding, renewing the organization’s authorization this week.

Last fall, the federal agency did a required evaluation of Wheeling Heritage — the first of the group since Wheeling was declared a National Heritage Area in 2008. The resulting report by the NPS had to be sent to Congress before House and Senate members could vote on re-authorizing federal funding for Wheeling Heritage.

As the clock ticked down this month on the current fiscal year, Congress still had not received the report or the request for re-authorization, according to information provided by the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. Failure to secure the authorization by June 30 would have resulted in Wheeling Heritage having no funding for fiscal year 2020.

Earlier this month, Manchin sent a letter to Dan Smith, acting director of the NPS, asking when the report would be sent to Congress. He also highlighted the important economic and cultural effects Wheeling Heritage has had on Wheeling and the surrounding community.

This week, Manchin received word back from Smith the report had been finalized, and was on its way to Congress.

While approving Wheeling Heritage’s authorization, Congress also assured a $2 million funding cap for Wheeling Heritage. When combined with community donations, drawing down on the $2 million should keep Wheeling Heritage in operation for at least the next four years, according to executive director Jake Dougherty.

He reports this year’s annual budget for Wheeling Heritage was $596,000.

“We received the final step when the letter was delivered to Congress from the National Parks Service saying we had met our mandate, have been good stewards of the federal money, and should continue operating,” Dougherty said.

“This is all very good for Wheeling and Wheeling Heritage.”

He explained the federal funding provides the foundation for the group to operate its core programs pertaining to the preservation of downtown building, and assisting start-up businesses and organizations to grow. But Wheeling Heritage still needs community support to operate, according to Dougherty.

“We’re very fortunate to have such a generous community,” he said.

In a released statement, Manchin commended Wheeling Heritage’s effort.

“It is great that Wheeling Heritage has finally been approved to continue getting the funding it needs,” Manchin said. “Wheeling Heritage brings joy to so many and attracts countless tourists, which are vital to Wheeling’s economy. I have been fighting to make sure NPS expedited their review of Wheeling Heritage because I know just how important it is to our state.

“Although I am disheartened that it took so long for the report to be reviewed, I applaud Acting Director Smith and NPS for their quick response to my letter and look forward to working with them to fast-track this process in the future,” he said.

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