CLEARFIELD – Clearfield County is like no other place in the world for Holly Komonczi, interim director, and her staff at the Clearfield County Recreation and Tourism Authority.
At the CCRTA, Komonczi said they highlight and promote the county’s tourism assets. In doing so, she said they strive to enhance the quality of life for both residents and visitors alike.
In addition, she said they have two major tools in their Web site and yearly travel planner. She said both equip them with the abilities to reach people across the globe.
According to Komonczi, most travel planning is now done online. Through their Web site, she said prospective visitors can navigate through designated community areas, view area attractions and their brochures.
She said visitors are not only able to check lodging rates and availability, but also to make reservations through their Web site. She said lodging locations are also viewable on interactive maps.
Komonczi said they publish the magazine-like travel planner once each year. She said their staff produces all the editorial work for the publication.
“It makes it more personal. (Our staff) knows the spots and can hit them,” she said. She said they tap into the group travel industry and target specific groups.
Komonczi said she has in turn observed a “major improvement” in the hotel and restaurant visits. She said they’d like these visitors to reach a little further and into the area’s tourism attractions.
When she initially came aboard the CCRTA staff in 2006, she said it was a challenge to make community members realize that Clearfield County was a travel destination.
“In general, any place you go, everyone says, ‘there’s nothing to do,’” she said. She said they’ve helped people locally see assets, such as Bilger’s Rock, the Winkler Gallery of Art and the Coalport Area Coal Museum.
“Those places are all here. But people never knew. These are all things to do,” she said. She said their staff is constantly in search of new niche events and attractions. She said they don’t want visitors to only visit once but to come back and experience more.
Komonczi said Clearfield County is a halfway point along Interstate 80. She said it is also the crossroads for both United States Routes 322 and 219 and centrally located amidst State College, Altoona and Punxsutawney.
“It’s a lot of help. We’re getting people here but want to keep them here longer. They’re coming here on accident, but we want to keep them here on purpose,” she said.
At the CCRTA, she said they’re not only involved in tourism on a local level, but also a piece of the puzzle on the state level. She said they’re very involved with both VisitPA.com and the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Komonczi noted tourism is the second leading industry in the state. She said they’re constantly working to further develop the county’s attractions. She said they want to be a continual asset to the larger group.
For example, she said Clearfield has the largest elk herd in the Eastern United States that roams in the Quehanna Wild Area in the northeastern part of the county.
“We have some of the most amazing wild areas right here. We have some of the best in the world. And, it’s right here in our backyard,” she said.
Komonczi said Clearfield has developed into a unique destination, especially in a value-based travel economy. She said they’ve captured regional travelers who come for recreation, such as hiking, biking and fishing.
“A lot of our assets, like Rails to Trails, are free,” she said. She said the CCRTA establishes partnerships with local businesses and attractions in order to better promote county assets.
She said local business owners understand the importance of working as one. She admitted it’s sometimes difficult to schedule workshops for partners to come together. But she also said it’s amazing to observe the networking when they’re able to do so.
Komonczi said their partners reach out to each other and have become a wonderful community. She said they don’t view themselves as competitors. Instead, she said they promote each other, recognizing they have nothing to lose by doing so.
“They feed off each other. It’s something they often do on their own. We only serve as the catalyst to bring them together. Our partners have taken a lot of initiative to work together. It makes our job a lot easier,” she said.
She said the CCRTA extends many training opportunities to their partners who are greeting county visitors. For most part, she said her staff doesn’t have much in-person contact with visitors. As a result, she said it’s important for local business owners and their staff to be hospitable.
“We want to make our visitors remember (Clearfield). We want them to travel and get around easily,” she said. She said they have chosen signage and marketing as the focal point of one of the two available grant programs.
Komonczi said the CCRTA has a grant committee with five members who review grant applications. She said they determine if the applicant meets the criteria for signage/marketing.
In addition, she said the county commissioners have a discretionary fund. She said they follow the same guidelines as the CCRTA grant program but offer a fresh set of eyes and another outlook.
Komonczi said they have emphasized signage, as it’s an important part of marketing. For example, she said a consultant visited Bilger’s Rocks in 2007. She said he indicated signage was a great downfall of the rock park.
“He said it was a very interesting place. (But then said), ‘How do I get here,” she recalled. She said since then they have established directional signs into and throughout the park.
Komonczi said she would like to see more tourism-related businesses team up with the CCRTA. She said she and her staff aim to become knowledgeable of area businesses and their offerings. She said their partners benefit from free marketing opportunities.
She said Clearfield County businesses and attractions can partner at no cost. She said business can still do so if they’re located outside the county. She said they, however, are charged an annual fee of $50.
“(Visitors) want to see the elk and the leaves change colors. We’re the hub of the Pennsylvania Wilds. After all, we are the backwoods, brackroads and backwaters,” she said.