FILE: National Aviation Heritage Area Sign Auglaize County-Sign located on I-75 south bound near Wapakoneta, Ohio. Similar signs are located on I-70 eastbound, east of the Preble /Montgomery county line; on I-70 westbound, in Clark county; and on I-75 northbound near the Butler/Warren county line.
Photo: submitted
Photo: submitted

Supporters say national aviation designation important to Dayton area as congress considers reauthorizing it

The future of the region’s National Aviation Heritage Area could be on the line as congress considers a bill that would reauthorize the region.

Although the Trump administration has rejected using federal money for the Dayton area as well as more than 50 heritage areas across the country, it is likely Congress will brush aside the administration’s request.

Instead, Congress is expected to re-authorize all the heritage areas and then agree on a lump sum to be divided among them. In the past, the Dayton region has received more than $300,000 a year in federal dollars.

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“Re-authorization is critical,” said Mackensie Wittmer, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance. “I’m cautiously optimistic that the National Aviation Heritage Area will be reauthorized by the end of the year.”

More than 115 years after the Wright Brothers made their first flights, the Dayton region remains an aviation hub and is home to the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is also the largest single site employer in the state.

The chairman of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance urged Congress on Tuesday to approve a bill that would re-authorize the heritage area for seven years, which would allow the aviation center to continue to receive federal dollars.

Testifying before a House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, Ted Prasse of the alliance said the “bipartisan bill” co-sponsored by Republican Mike Turner of Dayton and Democrat Joyce Beatty of suburban Columbus “is critical to our ongoing work.” The same bill has been introduced in the Senate by Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown.

Turner said the bill would “ensure NAHA receives the vital federal funds they need to operate the Heritage Area and preserve our community’s rich aviation history.”

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Originally, Amanda Wright Lane, the great grand-niece of Wilbur and Orville Wright, was scheduled to testify. But she was unable to make the trip, which led to Prasse reading her prepared statement.

The NAHA designation was first authorized nearly 15 years ago in 2004. There are 55 national heritage areas across the country, which the National Parks Services describe as “grassroots, community-driven approaches” to conservation and economic development.

The goal of the heritage area is to emphasize that the Dayton region remains the center global center on aviation pioneered by the Wright Brothers.

The National Aviation Heritage Alliance uses the area’s designation to market the region for aviation related tourism as well, Wright Lane told the Dayton Daily News. The alliance is in the process of planning events to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of Ohioan Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of Normandy, France during World War II.

“The tourism angle of it can be such a strong boost to our region,” Wright Lane said. “You don’t realize the impact it has on a nation and the world when you have a story like this in your backyard.”

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