2012 Champions of the PA Wilds Awards

BRADFORD, Pa. – Great Places, Great Design, Inspiring Youth and Government Leadership Awards were presented to McKean County entities Wednesday evening at the Pennsylvania Wilds Annual Update hosted by the PA Wilds Planning Team on Wednesday, April 26.

Rick Allan, Secretary of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; and Carolyn Newhouse, Dep. Sec. for Innovation & Investment at the Department of Community & Economic Development, Tourism & Film both presented on current efforts of their agencies in support of the great work being done in our region in developing heritage and nature tourism.

Keynote speaker was Ted Eubanks of Fermata Inc. who has assisted Pennsylvania in planning for long term sustainable tourism development, first with the development of the Elk Scenic Drive and then the creation of the Pennsylvania Wilds marketing brand which is based on the footprint of the Lumber Heritage Region’s 12 counties.

“I was very pleased to be a part of the award ceremony” stated Linda Devlin, Exec. Director of the Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau “our agency has worked to promote heritage and geotourism development within the region and it was very exciting to see four of our local entities receive statewide recognition for their outstanding achievements.”

The Great Places Award was presented to Kinzua Bridge State Park-Jason Heasley, Park Manager and Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources staff for their innovative reinvention of the remaining towers of the historic Kinzua Viaduct as the Kinzua Sky Walk. Opened to the public in 2011, visitation at the park skyrocketed to over 160,000 visitors last year. This increase in visitation has had an economic impact to the region of over 5 million dollars in new net revenue from visitors in the first year.

“Our Conservation Landscape Initiatives, such as the one in the Pennsylvania Wilds, focus DCNR efforts on the highest value natural areas in Pennsylvania, connecting communities to rivers, trails, and open space and strengthen economies through strategic public-private partnerships,”  Allan said.  “We are proud to receive the PA Wilds Great Places Award for the Kinzua Bridge State Park, which is a great example of one of the key investments DCNR has made in our many facilities in the region.”

Accepting the Inspiring Youth Award was Dr. William Schumann, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and his students. Dr. Schuman with a group of eight students undertook a research project of gauging public interest in “Trail Central” the tourism development and marketing brand for McKean County. This project consisted of conducting Town Hall meeting in four towns and research on the best practices in successful Trail Towns in America. His students presented their research to the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington, D.C.

In addition, students, under his direction worked with the Tuna Valley Trail Association and the Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau to develop trail apps and a tutorial on how to develop future trail apps. Students involved in the project were Ernest Benkovski, Jennifer Crowley, Ryan Crowley, Mara Kloss, Desiree Lamer, Lauren Marshall, Michael Morrison, Jenna Oyler and Elizabeth Tillman.

Jerry Clark of Sign Design of Westline received the Great Design Award. His hand carved and conventional signs for business are located throughout the region. A juried artisan of the Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan Trail, Jerry’s sign designs incorporate wood, stone, and a sense of place with each creation unique to the business it promotes.

McKean County Commissioners and the Smethport Borough were awarded the Government Leadership Award for their integrated planning to preserve and improve several historic buildings on county land and the McKean County Fairgrounds. The “Smethport Trail Study and County Park Master Plan” outlines a plan to link these entities to Smethport and beyond with the development of a community trail system. This planning document provides a strong vision for preservation, interpretation and recreational development that will benefit both visitors and residents.

The Annual Update was hosted by the PA Wilds Planning Team, which is comprised of the region’s 12 county governments and other local, state and federal stakeholders. The awards are given to recognize individuals, groups, organizations, communities and businesses that have done outstanding work related to the Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative of growing the region’s nature and heritage tourism industry as a way to create jobs, diversify local economies, inspire stewardship and improve the quality of life.

Planning Team officials said major accomplishments over the last year included the opening of two key destination conservation facilities in the region – the Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park and the skywalk at Kinzua Bridge State Park – with the resulting growth of small business around these and other nature tourism assets.

Also in the last year, the PA Wilds Planning Team was able to leverage its regional partnership to secure a $100,000 Preserve America grant from the National Park Service – monies that were then pushed out into communities in the form of grants to businesses, local governments and non-profits for community welcome signage, business signage and design assistance. All three grant programs 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, officials said.

Matt Quesenberry, Elk County Planning received the Member of the Year Award. Outstanding Leader Awards were presented to: Ron Steffy, Exec. Director, Allegheny Valley Land Trust, Wes Ramsey, Exec. Director Penn Soil RC & D, David Brooks, Director Potter County Visitors Association and the Tionesta Valley Snowmobile Club.

Other award winners included: Business of the Year-Benezette Hotel, Brian Kunes and Matt Castle, Artisan of the Year and Doug Firestone of Firestone Forge. Conservation Stewardship Awards were presented to: Ken Rowe, President-Bennett Branch Watershed Association, Allegheny River Clean-up-John Beard, Nate Welker and Piper VanOrd, and to Trout Unlimited-Eastern Abandoned Mine Program.

For additional information on Pennsylvania Wilds and the 2012 award winners please visit www.PAWildsResources.org.


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