Relatives of Flight 93 passenger, flight attendant speak

A visitor pauses on the observation deck of the Flight 93 National Memorial Visitors Center in Shanksville.

Editor’s note: This is a weekly series focusing on the importance of buying local.

As the nation celebrates Independence Day, it’s a good time to remember special places that are important to all Americans: the national parks.

Be Local means visiting Western Pennsylvania’s five national parks that share stories from the French and Indian War through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The parks tell our shared history as an American culture,’’ said park ranger Tom Markwardt, noting admission to the Western Pennsylvania parks is free and that all have educational programs to help the public understand the significance of what happened here.

Fayette County has two national parks.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Wharton Township was the 1754 site of the opening battle of the French and Indian War. The park tells the story of this war as well as the National Road, America’s first federal highway that brought travelers and goods back and forth, serving the area economically.

Friendship Hill National Historic Site in Springhill Township was the country estate of Albert Gallatin, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Jefferson and Madison. Gallatin reduced the national debt, purchased the Louisiana Territory and funded the Lewis & Clark exploration.

Two parks are in Cambria County.

Allegheny Portage Railroad in Gallitzin in 1824 became the first railroad to circumvent the Allegheny Mountains, marking the first direct route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Johnstown Flood Memorial recalls the 1889 failure of the South Fork dam that unleashed 20 million tons of water and devastated Johnstown. The flood killed 2,209 people and brought the nation together to aid the survivors.

Somerset County is the site of Flight 93 National Memorial that honors the 40 passengers and crew who lost their lives in a field near Shanksville. This was one of four airliners hijacked by terrorists who attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001. The Flight 93 heroes thwarted an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Besides preserving history, national parks contribute to the economy.

“We have a good number of visitors who visit local businesses and attractions. They eat at restaurants, buy gas and souvenirs, and often come back because the area is full of attractions,’’ said Markwardt.

The U.S. Department of the Interior notes visitor spending in communities near national parks results is a tremendous benefit to the American economy and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“National parks with their iconic natural, cultural and historic landscapes represent the heart and soul of America,” said National Park Service deputy director P. Daniel Smith. “They are also a vital part of our nation’s economy, especially for park gateway communities where millions of visitors each year find a place to sleep and eat, hire outfitters and guides and make use of other local services that help drive a vibrant tourism and outdoor recreation industry.”

Those interested in joining the Be Local Network can contact Chris Slota at 724-225-1326 or by email at chris@belocal.net. Discount cards are available at the Observer-Reporter and Almanac office, 122 S. Main St., Washington.