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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Eleven PA Wilds Champions honored at annual dinner


Eleven PA Wilds Champions honored at annual dinner.

By Tataboline Enos

More than 200 people crowded into the Red Fern in St. Marys for the 2015 PA Wilds Dinner & Awards Banquet this month to hear from core partners involved in the effort to grow the region’s nature and heritage tourism industry and to celebrate this year’s Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

The annual event, which started seven years ago as a luncheon with 50 or so people, has continued to grow each year as the Wilds work has gained momentum and community support. The event sold out this year.

Keynote speaker Michael DiBerardinis, who was secretary of DCNR when the Wilds work first launched, rallied the crowd with his reflections on how important the Wilds work is and how far it has come in such a short time. The Acting Secretaries of both DCNR and DCED came out for the event, which also buoyed the crowd.

A new video, “Celebrating Our Brand,” was released along with a new brand standards book. Other announcements included that PA Wilds Artisan Trail will soon be open to small-batch producers of craft ag products such as jellies and syrups (guidelines will be posted next month); and also that partners are looking to team up with the private sector to bring PA Wilds-branded hats, t-shirts and other similar products to market. Royalties collected through merchandising will stay in the region to support the Wilds work.

The night ended with 11 individuals and organizations being honored with PA Wilds Champion Awards. Congrats to all of this year’s Champions!!

2015 CHAMPION OF THE PENNSYLVANIA WILDS AWARD WINNERS

Mark Murawski - Outstanding Leader Award, Lycoming County
Mark started work as the County Transportation Planner with the Lycoming County Planning Commission and continues in that capacity today with three decades committed to public service. He manages the Williamsport Area Transportation Study, the official Metropolitan Planning Organization for Lycoming County that determines highway, bridge, railroad, airport and trail projects. Mark is active on the PA Wilds Planning Team Trails Committee and as a representative for Lycoming County Planning on the Pine Creek Rail Trail Advisory Committee. He demonstrates strong leadership at the county level for interconnected trail systems to create economic opportunity. He has been instrumental in the preparation of the Trails Chapter of the Lycoming County Recreation and Greenways Plan and in the creation of the Susquehanna Riverwalk, Riverwalk Extension, and the Pine Creek Trail extension into downtown Jersey Shore. Mark assists the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership to envision and start planning for the Genesee-Susquehanna Greenway, running from Lake Ontario to the Genesee River and ultimately into Maryland. These projects have sparked positive PA Wilds-related economic development and could not have become a reality without his infectious passion, knowledge and leadership.

Umbrella Rocks - Great Places Award, State Gamelands 44, Elk County
The Umbrella Rocks geological formation located 2 miles from downtown Ridgway, Elk County, Pennsylvania on State Gamelands 44, is an amazing example of Pottsville sandstone and the effects of wind and water over millions of years. The “Umbrella Formation” is one of several geologic formations located on a ridge at 2,160 feet between the watersheds of the north and south branches of Island Run, tributaries to the Nationally Designated Wild and Scenic Clarion River. Umbrella Rocks is accessible by hiking a trail that follows what may be the oldest railroad grade in Elk County that was surveyed in 1861 and constructed from coal fields in Shawmut to connect with the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad. The hike follows a Pennsylvania Game Commission road past several Seneca Resources shallow wells and other smaller rock formations. Umbrella Rocks is an amazing site that is easily reached by the trail system. The round trip hike highlights Mother’s Nature’s impact on the Allegheny Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains. Umbrella Rocks is an exceptional example of a great place to visit in the Pennsylvania Wilds region.

Todd Deluccia - Conservation Stewardship Individual Award, Cameron County
Ninety percent is not good enough when it comes to the water quality in Cameron County’s waterways. Todd Deluccia, Watershed Specialist for the Cameron County Conservation District (CCCD), spends many hours, on and off the job, taking steps to clean up the remaining 10 percent of the county’s waterways. Todd has been instrumental in acquiring funding for stream bank protection sites and has received several million dollars in grant monies to halt stream bank erosion in an environmentally-friendly way. He has completed more than 70 projects in Cameron County, restored nearly three miles of stream and has been a key partner in the treatment of acid mine drainage in the Sterling Run watershed. Since 2006 Todd has managed projects totaling over $1 million and leveraged more than $3 million in grant funding. Todd doesn’t just oversee the projects, he is in the stream swinging a sledge hammer to drive rebar, drilling holes, placing rocks and logs and is literally jumping in with both feet. Todd is also Chairman of Headwaters Resource, Conservation and Development’s Sinnemahoning Stakeholders Committee and participates in the statewide Envirothon.

Apple Tractor; Chris Miller, Manager - Conservation Stewardship Organization Award, Jefferson County
While they may seem an unlikely nominee for the Champion of the Wilds Award, Apple Tractor, a business which rents heavy construction equipment has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the Pennsylvania Wilds. Apple Tractor has donated the use of equipment to a key PA Wilds event, the Ridgway Chainsaw Carver Rendezvous, which attracts worldwide media attention. For the past eight years, Apple Tractor has donated a skid steer loader to move logs and finished carvings around downtown Ridgway. This service has been invaluable in making the event run as smoothly as possible by letting organizers focus on the event instead of the daunting logistics of moving logs. Apple Tractor has also donated their equipment to the Tricounty Rails-to-Trails Association that created and maintains trails that attract countless visitors to the region. Their donation has given Tricounty Rails-to-Trails help to quickly maintain and complete trails which would take volunteers much longer to finish. Apple Tractor’s loan of equipment has given Tricounty the opportunity to increase volunteer participation, form new partnerships, secure additional funding, and keep expanding the trails with a goal to link up with the PA Wilds West trail and eventually downtown Pittsburgh.

Forest County Industrial Development Corporation - Great Design Award
The Forest County Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) has successfully utilized and captured the essence of the PA Wilds Design Guide in their creation of the Tionesta Market Village. While transforming a burned-out lot into an asset for the community, the project maintained the community’s historic small town character. Economic development and downtown beautification were the goals and the IDC was conscious of the need to make buildings, site improvements and furnishings “fit” with the historic character of the community and planned accordingly. The concept started with placing outdoor sheds to rent for small business start-ups and creating retail traffic in the downtown. The IDC made them consistent with the theme by customizing the sheds with false fronts common to the 1800s-era commercial buildings. From there, more beautification was added along with picnic tables, a bandstand and play structures for children. This project has brought a restored pride in Tionesta, a sense of optimism, 14 business start-up opportunities, seasonal jobs, gathering space, and increased sales in neighboring businesses. The Forest County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) has also helped by waiving vendor permit fees, providing dumpster service throughout the season, and investing manpower and funds in the Market Village.

Julie Mader- Artisan of the Year Award, McKean County
Smethport resident and PA Wilds Juried Artisan Julie Mader is a thoughtful artist, passionate educator and vibrant community member. Her work as an artisan fosters a strong sense of place and community pride along with her contributions to the art world that improve the quality of life across the region. Julie’s work is well-known throughout the Wilds in projects such as “Power Within,” which was recognized as ‘Best of the Best’ by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. This is a piece focused on cancer-fighting plants created to honor and acknowledge the strength of patients, loved ones, and medical teams. A traveling exhibit, it has been displayed at hospitals, libraries and galleries throughout the region. Julie’s painting “Summertime” was selected for the 2014 Art for the Airwaves poster and was available as a thank-you gift with a contribution to WPSU-FM during their spring donor drive. As a gifted educator, Julie’s classes are consistently full and leave students inspired to create and to look at life with a positive perspective. Julie’s work, community focus and spirit exemplify the very best of the principles set forth in the Declaration of Principles for the Pennsylvania Wilds.

TomBob Outdoors; Tim Smith and Brad Clinton - Business of the Year Award, Elk County
The Ridgway-based enterprise, TomBob Outdoors was born out of a bold business move by Tim Smith and Brad Clinton to diversify a traditional powdered metals company by adding an outdoors division to it. TomBob Outdoors includes a line of patented, scented fishing lures manufactured locally by Continuous Metal Technologies along with other environmentally-friendly outdoor products like lead-free shot. TomBob Outdoors launched a national television series, Friends in Wild Places, broadcasting on the Pursuit Channel, Destination America a Discovery Communications Network, and other smaller networks across the U.S. The show takes viewers on hunting, fishing and outdoor adventures across the country including in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Tim Smith and Brad Clinton connected with the PA Wilds Team early on to find ways to tie into the PA Wilds brand and help promote the region through their television show. Over the last two years they have become valued partners in helping attract visitors to the Pennsylvania Wilds and in showcasing the many small businesses, rural traditions, events and landscapes for which the region is known.

Stephen F. Robar and Wayne Brinda, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford - Inspiring Youth Award, McKean County
Professors Stephen F. Robar and Wayne Brinda at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, are providing their students with robust and real-life opportunities outside the classroom. These have included innovative programs and projects like the development of Educational Resource Guides for popular school field trip destinations and working with communities to add their assets to the Trail Maker App. These projects promote visitation to historic, cultural and natural sites in the PA Wilds while inspiring these young adults to be stewards of these incredible natural and historic assets in their backyards. Instead of “busy” work, Professor Brinda wanted his students to impact the region positively. With that came the idea to support local school districts in a new requirement to have Education Resource Guides available for school field trip sites. Through this project, Education Resource Guides have now been developed for the PennBrad Oil Museum, the Eldred WWII Museum, and the Longhouse National Scenic Byway. Currently UPB students are working on a guide for the Kinzua Bridge State Park. All of these guides have been very successfully in encouraging new school field trips around the region.

PA Great Outdoors Elk Expo - Event of the Year Award, Elk County
2014 marked the 14th Annual PA Great Outdoors Elk Expo and the 2nd year it was held at the Elk County Visitor Center. With the help of many public and private partners at the local, state and national level, this two-day show has grown into a ‘must-see’ event boasting as many as 13,000 attendees. As part of this event, Game Commission partners have brought the PA Elk Hunt Lottery Drawing back to the region in addition to organizing a raffle for an additional elk tag which last year sold 9000 tickets to support elk conservation. The event also features educational seminars about conserving, protecting and enhancing elk country; programs that educate the youth about PA’s hunting heritage through hands-on training; artisan booths and demos; and wagon rides to see wildlife on the property. Foot traffic to the Expo gives a major boost to local lodging, restaurant, retailers and other small businesses in the area.

Jodi Brennan- Member of the Year Award, Clearfield County
Jodi Brennan is Clearfield County’s planning director and serves as chair of the PA Wilds Design Guide Awareness Committee. The Design Guide is an award-winning, voluntary planning document that helps communities to capitalize on growth opportunities without losing the characteristics that make them unique and contribute to our region’s strong sense of place. Under Brennan’s leadership, the Design Guide has grown in its distribution and use. Among her many successful projects, Brennan spearheaded a Preserve America grant on behalf of regional partners, which helped create a program for design assistance and signage grants to communities. Brennan also assisted the Oil & Gas Committee with the addition of a Design Guide Supplement for best practice by oil and gas partners. Thanks in no small part to Brennan’s leadership, we now have many great examples of the Design Guide in use throughout the region. Brennan is now spearheading an effort to update the Design Guide to include many of these success stories in order to further spread ideas and best practices to communities in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

The River 98.9 – Best Brand Ambassador, Cameron County
A regional brand can be a powerful economic development tool. But it takes time and a big reach to build name recognition. It helps greatly to have media partners who understand and believe in your brand. This is especially true in rural PA, where people and businesses are more spread out and social media can still be limited in some areas due to connectivity issues. For several years now, the River 98.9 “Your Hometown Radio Station” has promoted the Pennsylvania Wilds as a place in its radio ads, talk shows and other programming. If you have driven through Elk or Cameron counties, you have probably heard announcers refer to stopping by this or that business “in the Pennsylvania Wilds,” or public service announcements for tourism activities in the region. These messages are heard by hundreds of listeners each week. We thank WQKY-FM and WLEM-AM owner, John Salter, and operations manager, Gary Mitchell, and their staff for this organic, grassroots support that is helping to build name recognition for the Pennsylvania Wilds.


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