Legislation with increased funding cap for Wheeling Heritage signed into law

WHEELING — An expanded funding cap for the Wheeling Heritage National Area was made official Tuesday when President Donald Trump signed public lands legislation into law.

The law’s passage means that Wheeling Heritage will continue to receive funding from the National Park Service for years to come.

“I think it’s incredibly exciting,” Wheeling Heritage Executive Director Jake Dougherty said. “Our federal funding is the foundation to our work. It allows us to do projects that we do.”

The law, officially the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, creates new national monuments and expands national parks across the country. It also permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In Wheeling, the law will expand the funding cap for the Wheeling National Heritage Area from $13 million to $15 million. The $2 million extension allows Wheeling Heritage to receive federal funding until it hits that cap.

Money from the National Park Service makes up 48 percent of Wheeling Heritage’s revenue, according to its 2018 annual report. Wheeling Heritage, technically the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation, is the organization that represents the local national heritage area.

Since the heritage area started in 2001, it has received about $12 million in funding and will hit the current $13 million cap within two years.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. was in attendance at the bill’s signing Tuesday.

“This legislation is an important reminder that, when we work in a bipartisan way, the American people come out on top,” Manchin said in a press release. “By providing a modest cap increase, the Wheeling National Heritage Area can continue its vital role as an economic driver in West Virginia.”

In February, the Senate passed the legislation in a 92-8 vote and the House of Representatives passed it in a 363-62 vote.

Though the funding cap increase increases the ability of the heritage area to receive funding, Dougherty said, the organization still needs to receive appropriations and allocations from the federal government each year.

“The additional funding cap helps us understand what the future is for us,” he said. “I’m really thankful and grateful that our federal legislators support us.”

According to a 2017 economic impact study cited in the press release from Manchin, the Wheeling National Heritage Area generates $86.6 million in economic impacts in the area, with support for 1,109 jobs and $6.4 million in tax revenue.