ST. MARYS – Several dozen residents from around the Pennsylvania Wilds initiated projects specific to their areas during the PA Wilds Planning Team’s second regional conference on sustainable development, which was held this month in St. Marys.
“PA Wilds Fall Workshop: Connecting Nature, Economy, and Community Character,” was held Nov. 8-9 at the Red Fern and attracted nine teams from several different counties. The teams were looking to advance sustainable tourism projects that are important to their areas and that revolve around the region’s natural and cultural assets.
The teams included:
- a group from Elk County that was looking at starting a “Boulderdash” adventure race that links land stewardship, outdoor recreation and health improvement goals;
- a region-wide team that was working on long-term sustainability of the PA Wilds Artisan Trail;
- a trails team from Clarion County that was looking to develop a strategic plan;
- a team of businesses from Jefferson County that was looking to establish their area of the PA Wilds as a destination for corporate wellness programs and retreats;
- a team from Clearfield County that was working on revitalization efforts in Curwensville and connections to the West Branch Susquehanna Water Trail;
- a team from the Lumber Heritage Region that was working on their organization’s management plan update;
- a team from Tioga County that wants to better link natural and cultural assets to boost tourism;
- a team from McKean County that working on downtown revitalization in Port Alleghany; and
- a team from Potter County that was looking to capitalize on increased foot traffic to Cherry Spring Dark Skies Park by positioning a nearby town to be a gateway to the park.
Teams were structured to include a diverse membership with participants being community leaders, elected officials, business owners, land managers and tourism professionals.
Over two days, participants heard from regional, state and national experts on topics relevant to the region and then worked as a team in a structured setting to flesh out their project ideas and future steps. Speakers included leaders from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, the PA Department of Community and Economic Development and keynote Ed McMahon, a leading authority on community planning and sustainable tourism development.
Participants also heard from the people behind three local projects that have garnered regional attention – the Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways in
Warren County; the Cameron County Artisan Center, a star on the PA Wilds Artisan Trail; and the Austin Dam project in Potter County.
McMahon’s presentations and the opportunity to network with teams and leaders from around the region were identified by participants as favorite elements of the conference.
The conference, offered by the PA Wilds Planning Team, is similar to one the group held in 2007, which led to several successful community-driven tourism projects in the region.
“Residents know best what projects have potential in their areas, but it is sometimes hard to find the time or opportunity to get the right people around the table to advance these good ideas or tie them into what is going on regionally with tourism,” said Planning Team Chair Dan Glotz.
“The fall conference is just a first step for the teams. Our hope is the participants will build on the plans they developed at the workshop – and that they’ll be in a better position to do that now that they are connected into the regional network that is the backbone of the Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative.”