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'Find Your Park' provides opportunity to visit 22 national historic sites in state

Preserving national historic landmarks has long played a major role in presenting the dramatic history of Oklahoma, but the National Park Service's 100th anniversary "Find Your Park" promotion provides an opportunity to focus attention on these important places.

A study of the economic impacts of historic preservation in Oklahoma documented that heritage tourism generates $175 million a year for the state's economy. Even more positively, this wealth is "overwhelmingly new dollars coming into Oklahoma from outside the state," said Kathy Dickson, director of the Museums and Sites Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. The data verified a direct link between heritage tourism, 3,980 Oklahoma jobs and $14 million in state and local Oklahoma taxes.

"Many Oklahomans don't realize we have 22 national historic landmarks in our state," said Bob Blackburn, the Oklahoma Historical Society's executive director. "Promotion of the 'Find Your Park' initiative can help increase public awareness of what is right in our own backyard. We hope people will visit the National Landmarks that OHS owns and share their visitor experiences through social media and findyourpark.com."

Five national historic landmarks owned by the society are:

nFort Gibson Historic District, located at Lee and Ash Streets in Fort Gibson in Muskogee County. Established in 1824 under the command of Gen. Matthew Arbuckle, the post was named for Commissary General George Gibson. The fort served as the end of the Trail of Tears for the Five Civilized Tribes in the 1830s and 1840s and as a military and civilian administrative hub until 1890.

nFort Washita, located southwest of Nida near Durant on Oklahoma 199 in Bryan County. Established in 1842 by Gen. Zachary Taylor, the fort protected the Chickasaws and Choctaws against the nomadic Comanche and Apache tribes. It also served as a way station for Butterfield Overland Trail travelers.

nThe George M. Murrell House, located at 19479 E. Murrell Home Road in Park Hill, 4 miles south of Tahlequah. George M. Murrell, who married the niece of Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross, built the house in 1845.

nHoney Springs Battlefield National Historic Landmark, located at 1863 Honey Springs Battlefield Road near Rentiesville in McIntosh and Muskogee Counties. The Battle of Honey Springs occurred on July 17, 1863, during the American Civil War. It was among the first battles that included black troops as Union soldiers.

nSequoyah's Cabin, located at 470288 Oklahoma. 101 near Sallisaw in Sequoyah County. The one-room log cabin was built in 1829. In 1936 a stone cover building was constructed over the cabin to protect it. The cabin is nationally significant as the home of Sequoyah, also known as George Guess or Gist, the inventor of the 85-character Cherokee syllabary.

In addition the society-owned landmarks, thousands of properties are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Federal and state rehabilitation tax credits encourage private owners to adapt historic buildings for productive, modern uses.

"The rehabilitation tax credits make it financially possible to invest in our state's historic resources," said Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Melvena Heisch. "During fiscal year 2015 (through Sept. 30), 34 new rehabilitation projects were submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office. Additionally, 12 projects received final certification during this period."

Rehabilitation projects tend to have significant impacts, stimulating revitalization of districts and creating jobs, Heisch said. Tax credits also generate net revenue for the state and local governments, putting blighted and abandoned buildings back into service and on the tax rolls, plus creating jobs, she said.

Rehabilitation projects in Oklahoma City include the $55 million project to reopen the downtown Skirvin Hilton Hotel after 20 years of neglect, plus the rehabilitation of the Citizens Bank Tower just south of the Gold Dome at Northwest 23rd Street and Classen Boulevard and Jerry Worster's redevelopment of buildings at 2500-2522 N. Robinson.

"These and other rehabilitation projects illustrate the significant impact such work has on the surrounding areas," Blackburn said. "One tax credit project can stimulate the revitalization of a commercial district or neighborhood while generating revenue for state and local governments.

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