PA Wilds Economic Impact Discussed at Gathering in Bradford

(GantDaily Graphic)

BRADFORD – On April 29, more than 100 elected officials and other leaders from across the Pennsylvania Wilds gathered at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford to explore the economic impact of the Pennsylvania Wilds initiative, and also to honor some of the region’s most dedicated and productive community activists.

The primary focus was on Making an Impact, a new report that the Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team released at the luncheon and made available to the public at www.pawildsresources.org. The Making an Impact report includes findings from two major studies that measure the jobs, tourism dollars and other benefits that the Pennsylvania Wilds has generated to date. It also highlights the major investments that have been made in the area as part of the Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative.

“This is a very important document for the Pennsylvania Wilds and this region,” said Pennsylvania Wilds community outreach specialist Sam MacDonald. “It is incredibly difficult to measure something like ‘economic impact’ across a region as large and diverse as the PA Wilds. Our communities, businesses and state parks are not like theme parks; there is not a turnstile counting people as they walk through the door. Still, it’s important to try to get a handle on who is coming here, what they enjoy doing, and how much money they are spending. This report is a major step in that direction. This is data that will help us decide which programs are most effective and where we can make the most improvements.”

“At the same time, it is very important to remember that the Pennsylvania Wilds is not all about tourism,” MacDonald added. “State agencies, local supporters, business owners and our federal partners have all made serious investments in this region. Some of that is designed to make this a better place to visit, but it also makes this a better place to live. We have seen major improvements in our state parks, for instance, and those facilities are used heavily by local residents. We have seen more and more people get involved in preserving and restoring this region’s culture, heritage, and environment. The Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team is committed to the idea that community character matters, and that starts with local people and local concerns.” 

Special keynote addresses at the luncheon came from John Quigley, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation of Natural Resources, and Mickey Rowley, Deputy Secretary-Tourism of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Other presenters included Dave Morris, President, Pennsylvania Wilds Tourism Marketing Corp, and Ta Brant, small business ombudsman of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team Chairman Matt Quesenberry also addressed the gathering, praised his colleagues for their accomplishments, and laid out the challenges moving forward. “We all know this is an election year,” he said. “A new administration is going to come in and establish its own priorities. That’s another reason this Impact Report is so important. It shows that these programs and these ideas can work, and that they have worked. It’s crucial for us as planners, elected officials and community leaders to communicate our success to the public and to funders at all levels. At the same time, it is equally important for us to continue taking ownership of these programs and supporting them at the local level.”

In keeping with that goal, the Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team took time at the luncheon to honor 12 citizens from across the region as “Champions” of the Pennsylvania Wilds. These are business owners, elected officials and other people who have shown an exemplary commitment to the economic prosperity, environmental vitality and cultural heritage of the region. Below is a list of the winners:

Champions of the Wilds Award Winners

Piper Lindell, of Allegheny Outfitters in Warren County, has taken two ailing canoe and kayak liveries and turned them into an authentic outdoor experience. Through creative efforts such as publishing the Allegheny River Paddling Guide, and launching a five-day annual Allegheny River Clean-Up, Piper is helping to make the Allegheny River a premier flat-water paddling destination. She also donates her time and energy to her local tourism promotion association board, the Warren County Greenways committee, the Pennsylvania State Fishing Tournament, the Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan Trail and other efforts.

Paul Hoffmaster, McHenry Township Supervisor (Lycoming County), has led important discussions with the Pine Creek Council of Governments, of which he is chairman. Much of the initial dialogue reflected local fear of what increased tourism would mean for the fragile Pine Creek ecosystem and its surrounding communities. Paul has helped to turn that concern into a constructive and forward looking approach to planning. He serves as a volunteer on the County Zoning Hearing Board. Under his leadership, the Pine Creek COG has conducted a Management Study for the river trail corridor and developed a design guide for local leaders that embraces Community Character Stewardship to help maintain the special character of the Pine Creek Valley.

Dr. William C. Conrad is executive director and trustee of the Stackpole-Hall Foundation, which has supported the arts, the environment, health, education, and community development in Elk County since 1951. He was instrumental in securing the foundation’s support for the 2007 “Balancing Nature and Commerce” workshops, which served as the impetus for many of the community teams that now drive some of the Pennsylvania Wilds’ most successful initiatives. “The Foundation also recognized the good work of one of those community teams working along the Clarion River with a grant for the Archeological Field School conducted each summer for local high school students to learn about the river’s history and how to be good stewards of this exceptional water and recreational resource in their backyards.”

Gary Buchsen is the owner and operator of several businesses in the Coudersport area, including the Millstream Inn. He has been a strong proponent of using the Pennsylvania Wilds Design Guide for Community Character Stewardship as he works to make these facilities more appealing to visitors and locals alike. He built a log cabin instead of using a steel shed to store an antique wagon. He has used these principals in the construction of four new cabins that will serve the growing lodging needs of the area, and helped revitalize Main Street with potted trees and plants.

Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways (PKP) aims to upgrade existing tourism assets in and around the Allegheny National Forest near the Allegheny Reservoir, and to connect these assets through a system of trails. Partnerships, historic awareness, stewardship, and business opportunities are key components of this multi-phase project, which has garnered widespread public support. PKP was born in a Leadership Warren County class, where leaders Joe Colosimo, Ines Nelson and Coralee Wenzel first made contact with the Pennsylvania Wilds. Since then, they have brought funders, federal agencies, state leaders and environmental groups together to move the project forward.

Deb Adams, owner of the Gateway Lodge, has transformed her rustic retreat into a destination that showcases all that the Pennsylvania Wilds has to offer. She has expanded the region’s stay over appeal, upgraded her menu with fresh local foods, and decorated the facility with fixtures made by local artisans. Her attention to web marketing, and packaging stays with authentic cultural and outdoor recreation experiences provided by local outfitters, has made the lodge a popular destination. The Gateway Lodge has become one of the crown jewels of the region surrounding Cook Forest, encouraging many visitors to stay an extra day or two to enjoy the hospitality.

Marilyn Blackmore is the Director of the Art in the Wilds Show Committee, which has directed the highly successful Art in the Wilds event in Kane since 2007. One of the first events to fully embrace the Pennsylvania Wilds brand, annual attendance has grown to more than to 4,200. Much of the art sold at the event was produced by participants in the Artisan Trail. Prices at the show range from $10 to $7,000 or more, and in 2009 nearly 770 pieces of art were sold.

The Board of Directors of the Cameron County Chamber of Commerce made forward-thinking financial and strategic commitments that resulted in the new Cameron County Chamber of Commerce and Artisan Center. The resulting facility has become a model for how communities can take advantage of the Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan Trail. More than 60 Artisans are now represented at the Center, and their work has generated more than $40,000 in sales to-date. The Artisan Center serves as both an economic engine for local artisans, and a draw for local and outside shoppers eager for authentic, locally produced wares.

The Allegheny Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society sponsored the Upland Bird Hunt in the Pennsylvania Wilds in November 2009. The event attracted nearly 300 visitors from as far away as Texas, and featured an extremely successful auction of art produced by members of the Artisan Trail. The Ruffed Grouse Society is planning the hunt and auction as an annual event. Special thanks go to Chris Yeager, president of the Allegheny Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society, and Mary Hosmer, a member of the RGS and lead volunteer for this event.

Stephanie Distler is the owner of the Flemish House Art Gallery in Johnsonburg, which features her own art work and that of other Pennsylvania Wilds Artisans. She is also heavily involved in the preservation of the local community center. She is the founder and manager of Johnsonburg Farmer’s Market, a local bean-dinner fundraiser, and a host of other grassroots efforts aimed at revitalizing Johnsonburg’s unique and historic sense of community character.

County Commissioners of Cameron, Clinton, Elk, McKean, Forest, Potter, Clearfield, Tioga and Warren Counties recently provided funds in support of the Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative and the work of the Planning Team. The Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team exists because of an unprecedented inter-governmental cooperation agreement signed by the commissioners in all 12 of the Pennsylvania Wilds counties. The counties also directly support the Planning Team by assigning representatives to attend regular meetings and providing in-kind contributions. The additional support provided by the counties enables the continuation of vital programs and demonstrates strong local support to our state and federal partners.

The North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission supports a wide range of development initiatives in a six-county region of the Pennsylvania Wilds. In addition to being a natural partner in many of the business and community development initiatives, North Central has generously donated space for monthly Planning Team meetings, administrative assistance, and countless hours of technical and strategic support from its staff.

Background:

The PA Wilds is a 12-county region that offers tremendous outdoor experiences, some of the best in the nation, with 29 state parks, eight state forests, 50 state game lands, abundant wildlife and hundreds of miles of land and water trails. The amount of public land in the region — more than 2 million acres — is comparable to Yellowstone. The region is home to the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi, some of the darkest skies in the country. It is a unique place in America.

The PA Wilds is also a region surrounded by major tourism markets. More than 50 million people live within a day’s drive of the Pennsylvania Wilds — making it an attractive place to come hunt, bike, hike, camp, fish, canoe and more. Nature draws many to the area, but visitors also love the region’s small town charm.

In 2003, the state launched the PA Wilds initiative. The idea was to market the region to tourists while simultaneously helping local communities capitalize on the benefits and deal with the challenges of increased visitation. Stewardship of the region’s remarkable natural resources is an important underlying message of the initiative.

The Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team: This group is made up of county planners, regional economic development and heritage organizations, and local and state government officials. The team meets monthly in Ridgway, in Elk County. The Planning Team’s mission is to develop and implement strategies to encourage tourism growth in the PA Wilds while protecting and conserving both the region’s treasured natural resources and its rural community character.

The Pennsylvania Wilds Tourism Marketing Corporation: Officials from the eight tourism promotion agencies (TPAs) serving the PA Wilds region make up this organization. The primary goal of the Marketing Corporation is to establish a strong coalition of public and private partners with the goal of branding the Pennsylvania Wilds as the premier destination for outdoor experiences in the eastern United States. They do this through radio, television and print advertising, among other projects. The Marketing Corp produces the Pennsylvania Wilds Regional Visitors Guide, Fishing Guide, Outdoor Discovery Maps, Scenic Byways Brochure, and Artisan Trail Guide. They are also in charge of the pawilds.com website and represent the region at snowmobile and ATV shows, consumer travel shows, golf shows, and the like.

Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan Workgroup: Created in 2006, this volunteer group’s goal is to raise the visibility and profitability of the region’s artisans. As of 2010, the group had juried in more than 100 artisans from around the region; had partnered with more than two dozen galleries and retails shops to create a PA Wilds Artisan Trail; had worked with the PA Wilds Marketing Corp. to publish a free trail guide for tourists and create “Made in the Pennsylvania Wilds” hangtags; and was in the final stages of developing a website to promote the artisans, galleries and Artisan Trail.

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