More on Pennsylvania Wilds

PENNSYLVANIA WILDS — More than 160 business and community leaders from across the Pennsylvania Wilds region gathered Wednesday evening at the Red Fern in St. Marys for an update on the PA Wilds Initiative and to honor 14 local organizations and individuals for outstanding work in sustainable tourism development.
The PA Wilds Initiative is a public-private effort that aims to grow the nature and heritage tourism industry across 12 ½ counties of rural PA as a way to create jobs, diversify local economies, inspire stewardship and improve quality of life. Dozens of federal, state and local partners from the public and private sectors are involved in the effort.
Keynote speaker Ted Eubanks, whose Texas-based Fermata Inc firm has worked on sustainable tourism development issues around the globe and was involved in early studies that helped launch and guide the PA Wilds, said he was blown away by how far the PA Wilds had come. He told the audience it couldn’t have happened without local ownership and involvement. “You should be very proud.”
The event also included comments by 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. The effort to grow the region’s nature and heritage tourism industry has spanned three governors; DCNR and DCED are the two main state partners involved in the effort.
“Our Conservation Landscape Initiatives, such as the one in the Pennsylvania Wilds, focus DCNR efforts on the highest value natural areas in Pennsylvania, help reconnect 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 new glass-bottom observation deck at 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.”
The Annual Update is hosted by the PA Wilds Planning Team, which is comprised of the region’s 12 county governments and other local, state and federal stakeholders.
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 Sky Walk at Kinzua Bridge State Park – and small business growth 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.
Other work completed by the PA Wilds Planning Team in 2011 included compiling and publishing a Marcellus Shale Resource Guide for Municipal officials (available at www.pawildsresources.org); and partnering with Lumber Heritage Region to pool grant monies and fund $30,000 in local projects that promote heritage and nature-based tourism. The projects included everything from a geocaching trail along the West Branch to interpretive signage in several counties to new kiosks with trail maps in McKean County.
The PA Wilds Artisan Trail, which aims to raise the visibility and profitability of artisans and arts-related businesses in the region, created new interior and exterior signage for its retail partners last year, and nearly doubled the size of the region’s Artisan Trail. Regional marketing efforts over the last year included a public photo contest, trade shows and a major redesign of PAwilds.com to make it more user-friendly and better able to highlight each county’s assets. The website gets about 7,000 unique hits a month. The redesign is slated to launch this spring.
Projects in the works include outreach to high school and college students that includes a scholarship program; a community welcome signage grant program in July; and an online store and trail app to promote the Artisan Trail and the sale of locally-made artisan products.
Among the night’s highlights, commissioners or designates from the 12 county governments at the core of the Planning Team were presented with a copy of the Governor’s Award for Local Government Excellence – which was bestowed on the Planning Team last week by the Corbett administration.
“Without the support of our county governments the work of the Planning Team, and certainly this award, would not have been possible,” said PA Wilds Planning Team Chairman Dan Glotz, of Warren County Planning.
The evening ended with 14 individuals, businesses and organizations being named 2012 Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds. The winners were given plaques, citations by their state senators and certificates of recognition by Congressman Glenn Thompson, a longtime supporter of the PA Wilds.
The winners included Artisan of the Year Doug Firestone of Potter County and Business of the Year Benezette Hotel of Elk County.
Four awards went to McKean County: Jerry Clark of Sign Design of Westline snagged a Great Design Award; Kinzua Bridge State Park garnered a Great Places Award; the Inspiring Youth Award went to Dr. William Schumann and his students at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford; and McKean County Commissioners and Smethport Borough brought home a Government Leadership Award.
Outstanding Leader Awards went to Wes Ramsey of Warren County; David Brooks of Potter County; Tionesta Valley Snowmobile Club of Warren/Forest counties; and Ron Steffey for his work in Clarion County. Matt Quesenberry of Elk County Planning, who has served as the Planning Team’s chairman for the last three years, was named Member of the Year. Conservation Stewardship Awards went to the Allegheny River Clean-Up in Warren County; Trout Unlimited’s Eastern Abandoned Mine Program in Clinton County; and to Ken Rowe of the Bennett Branch Watershed Association.
“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,” Glotz said.
Full write-ups on the award winners are available at www.PAwildsResources.org. Attached photos are courtesy Sheila Singer/North Central PA RPDC
For more information on the Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative visit www.PAwildsResources.org or YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxX3ppxMt6k.


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