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Friday, May 3, 2013

Record crowd attends PA Wilds dinner and awards banquet

 Record crowd attends PA Wilds dinner and awards banquet

ST MARYS, PA -- More than 170 business and community leaders from across the Pennsylvania Wilds gathered Thursday evening to get an update on the state and local effort to grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy, and to honor 13 local organizations and individuals for outstanding work in conservation and sustainable tourism development.

The annual Spring Briefing event, now in its sixth year, is hosted by the PA Wilds Planning Team, a group comprised of planners from the region’s 12 county governments and other local, state and federal stakeholders from the public and private sectors.

The evening began with a video ( set to music that highlighted major accomplishments in the last year by some of the driving forces behind the movement: the PA Wilds Planning Team, the PA Wilds Tourism Marketing Corp., the PA Wilds Small Business Ombudsman and the region’s two heritage organizations, PA Route 6 and Lumber Heritage.

Outdoor recreation is big business in the U.S., according to an American Outdoor Association report cited in the video. The money Americans spend on outdoor gear and on trips and travel to get outdoors accounts for an estimated 6.1 million jobs and $646 billion in consumer spending annually. The industry has seen steady growth and is an increasingly important piece of the economic pie in the Pennsylvania Wilds, which boasts two million acres of public land, two National Wild & Scenic Rivers, the largest elk herd in the northeast, some of the darkest skies in the world and a National Forest. 

Visitors spent an estimated 1.7 billion in the PA Wilds in 2011 – an 11.5 percent rate of growth that was the fourth highest among the state’s 11 tourism regions, according to the latest figures from the State Tourism Office, which were also cited in the video.

The event included remarks by Meredith Hill, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ PA Wilds Director; and Carolyn Newhouse, Dep. Sec. for Innovation & Investment at the Department of Community & Economic Development. PA DCNR and DCED are the two main state partners involved in the regional effort. Republican State Rep. Matt Gabler also spoke, commending the group on the great work being done in the Pennsylvania Wilds. 

The evening included updates on three main aspects of tourism development in the region: marketing, planning and small business development.

The PA Wilds Tourism Marketing Corp, comprised of the region’s visitor bureaus, in the last year redesigned, a regional visitor website that gets upwards of 6000 hits a month. The group also released the North Star study, which shed light on visitor trends; and ran a successful public photo contest, which got more than 2000 entries and is now a traveling exhibit being shown in galleries across the region. Another photo contest is in the works.

On the small business development front, the PA Wilds Artisan Trail has doubled in size in the last year, from 15 to 30 locations. The PA Wilds Small Business Ombudsman has contacted more than 600 businesses since coming on board in 2008. She’s worked with 56 small business start-ups and 57 expansions that have created 264 jobs; during which 570 referrals were made to other service providers. In addition to service sector-businesses and producers, the ombudsman is now also working with manufacturers of outdoor recreation products in the region. She has also started writing stories explaining regional trends in this industry in Keystone Edge, an online business journal with a statewide footprint.    

Planning Team officials said major accomplishments over the last year included finishing a Design Assistance Pilot Program that leveraged a $100,000 Preserve America grant from the National Park Service and nearly $300,000 in private investment. The team also completed another round of their popular signage grant program, which helped 13 communities get new welcome signage incorporating the PA Wilds logo. Both programs were created to promote use of the PA Wilds Design Guide, a voluntary planning document to help communities be good stewards of their rural characteristics as they grow. The group held two regional conferences in 2012: one to help residents advance local tourism projects and another focused on recreation trails. Members of the team are now working with oil and gas officials to create a set of voluntary design standards to add to the Design Guide for communities interested in minimizing negative visual effects of drilling on their rural landscapes. Shell Appalachia has donated $15,000 to the project.

Keynote speaker Barry Denk, from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, spoke about the importance of engaging the region’s youth – a focus area among stakeholders involved in growing the region’s outdoor recreation economy. Among other youth outreach efforts, the PA Wilds Small Business Ombudsman is capturing the stories of young entrepreneurs in the PA Wilds to share with high school and college students to talk about what it means to have an entrepreneurial spirit in rural PA and why it matters. 

The evening ended with 13 individuals, businesses and organizations being named 2013 Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds. The winners were given plaques, citations by their state legislators and certificates of recognition by Congressman Glenn Thompson. 

The 2013 winners included Artisan of the Year Nelson Haas of Cameron County and Business of the Year Benezette Wines of Elk County. The Inspiring Youth Award went to Don Bickford of Cameron County. Three people were recognized for Conservation Stewardship: Jackie Flynn, Kim Bonfardine and PA Wildlife Habitat Unlimited. The Great Places Award went to the Station Gallery in Clinton County. Three people were given awards in the highly competitive Outstanding Leader category: Joe Colosimo of Warren County; Donald Hull of McKean County; and Bob Imhof of Elk County. The Great Event Award went to Warren County Winterfest and the Great Design Award to STEP Inc of Clinton-Lycoming Counties. Tioga County Planner Jim Weaver was named Planning Team Member of the Year for his work on the team’s Oil & Gas Committee. 

“The PA Wilds Planning Team is proud to recognize the incredible work being done by so many local residents, businesses and organizations to grow our region’s nature and heritage tourism industry,” said PA Wilds Planning Team Chair Dan Glotz.

Full write-ups on the award winners will be available Friday at

The Pennsylvania Wilds region includes the counties of Warren, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Lycoming, Clinton, Cameron, Elk, Forest, Clarion, Jefferson, Clearfield and the northern part of Centre county.


Anonymous said...

So blissfully ignoring the elephant in the room. FRACKING. The fact that the state has sold out to BIG GAS and will not/did not environmentally protect any state land (with exception to the few small “wild areas” representing only a tiny fraction of the overall state land acreage. Where is this PA wilds? PA Bureau Of Forestry clear-cuts. State forest roads bisect the forestland into small parcels of only a few thousand acres. ATV trails and the inundation of Frack Trucks turn this supposed “wilds” into an industrialized, mechanized noisy polluted wasteland. Instead of this “PA wilds” group wasting money to pat themselves on the back how about pushing for environmental regulations? How about zoning of private land to support your cause? Oh, Those questions to tough? Afraid of the backlash private land owners will give you at the mention of development and land-use regulations? I absolutely agree that a tourism based economic model will work. However “PA wilds” group MUST do more to protect the very means that fundamentally support their model. THE WOODS!

Anonymous said...

Pennsylvania Wilds is a scam. Wasteful state paper shufflers that have done nothing to improve public recreation.

Anonymous said...

7:57 am So true ! I have not seen ONE improvement in the town i live in due to the great Pa wilds scam ! But i have seen plenty of decay and people moving out!