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Saturday, July 11, 2009

PA Wilds Community Success Story

PA Wilds Community Success Story:Modest Emporium makes a move to highlight its own 'wildness'by Mike Wennin.

Emporium, Pennsylvania is located in the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds. Surrounded by an outdoor paradise of forests, streams, and wildlife, Emporium—and Cameron County—has been the hub of sportsmen’s activities since the 1800s.

Its beautiful tree-lined streets have provided Emporium with recognition as a Tree City for more than 20 years. The manufacturing based economy has seen many shifts through out history from lumbering to tanning to dynamite to electronics—and today, sintered metal. Its people have always excelled in whatever the prominent industry of the day is, and have had an international market for their goods since the early days of lumbering where 100-ft.-plus tall white pine spars became masts for clipper ships that sailed around the world.

Today, there is a need to diversify the economy and the people of Emporium and Cameron County are stepping up to the plate to do what can be done to help this shift in focus. Before the advent of the Pennsylvania Wilds, forward-thinking County Commissioners recognized the opportunities of heritage tourism and offered to locate the newly formed Lumber Heritage Region (LHR) in the county courthouse.

Understanding the importance of being the hub of such a venture, this gesture has kept the County in the center of what is going on in the Region. In addition to the LHR, the DCNR Pennsylvania Wilds Rec Team is now housed in the county; the Pennsylvania Wilds Marketing Corporation and other PA Wilds entities meet here on a regular basis to the benefit of local businesses.

With the need to spruce up their assets, community leaders formed the Sylvan Heritage Council to lead the way in making the down town area more inviting. They have completed many successful projects from façade improvements to an annual clean-up event where the whole town gets a good spring cleaning. The council also sent a team to the “Balancing Nature and Tourism” workshop, where they learned ways to take advantage of the PA Wilds initiative—and have been working on projects ever since. The group received initial funding provided by the Emporium Foundation and local business owners. Since then, they have raised their own funds by participating in local events where they cook/bake and sell their own homemade goods and hot drinks, each packaged beautifully for immediate giving during on one of the community’s signature events, “Christmas in the Wilds.” They also participate in the Artfest held annually in the downtown, by creating more edible delights for sale. Even though the community is too small to qualify for their own downtown façade funding through the state program, community leaders established a facade improvement account through their fundraising efforts to help out local businesses which is patterned after Ridgway’s success. From new signs to mulching, no job is too small for this active group!

The biggest success so far has been the creation of the Cameron County Chamber of Commerce and Artisan Center. As the Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan Trail got underway, Cameron County did not have a venue for artists. Moving the chamber to a new location offered the opportunity to create the Artisan Center. Opened in July of 2008, the facility now displays the artwork of more than 50 regional artisans and has had sales topping more than $20,000 since it opened. The well- laid-out art center offers courses through out the year from stained glass to jewelry making to walking stick carving.

The next push will be on how to market the outdoor recreation prevalent in the county. Legacy events such as hunting and fishing are still draws to the area, but canoeing, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, wildlife photography, elk-viewing and geocaching are all growing in participation. A rail trail from Emporium to St. Marys is in the works. They are looking at ways to capitalize on these and other assets in the county in order to share the unique features of the county.

Mike Wennin is the executive director of the Lumber Heritage Region of Pennsylvania, Inc.

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