By Mike Wennin
After several years of planning, laying foundations, and creating partnerships, the twelve county Pennsylvania Wilds initiative is beginning to see results.
The immense coalition of state advisors, county employees and local volunteers working to develop the Pennsylvania Wilds has begun to see the fruits of their labor. Hotel rooms (this does not take into account campsites, cabins and lodges) sold in the PA Wilds was up in 2008 6.5 percent (954,000 total rooms) with a 12 percent increase in revenue ($71.3 million) from these rooms. This is significant in that some of the state’s traditional vacation destinations saw a decline. All of the festivals and events in the region experienced increased or sustained visitation last year during a time of high gas prices.
In spite of the economy, this year has seen some incredible increases so far in attendance and participation in area events. Groundhog Day 2009 saw 13,500 visitors. The Chapman State Park Winterfest had 12,800 participants—up 2000 from 2008. The Chain Saw Carving Rendezvous saw 20,150 visitors and raised $45,900 at their closing day auction. The Kinzua Outdoor Show saw over 6000 attendees, an increase of some 1,200 people. The Cameron County Canoe and Kayak Classic had close to 200 boats in the water up from 124 last year.
In Clinton County applications were closed early for the Hyner Run Challenge as more than 770 people had signed up for the event- up 150 from last year. Maple Syrup Weekend in Potter and Tioga Counties saw double the number of visitors at some of the open Sugar Shacks with several hundred people from as far away as Maryland participating in the event. Various cabin rental locations in the region are already booked for the season and Interstate 80 hotels are holding their own which is significant in that other destination hotels are experiencing a decrease in overnight stays.
One of the most satisfying outcomes of the Pennsylvania Wilds has been seen locally through out the region as community after community has stepped up to take on the challenges of taking advantage of this opportunity.
Early on, nine groups of community leaders from around the region participated in the Balancing Nature and Tourism workshop where they learned first hand how to utilize the possibility and opportunities the initiative has to offer. They recently reported on their projects and listeners were amazed at the results these nine groups had produced in such a short time…many working outside of their comfort zones making a difference in their communities…all beaming with pride in what they had accomplished and what they will accomplish in the future.
One of the regions many success stories include the opening of the Cameron County Chamber of Commerce and Artisan Center that has seen sales of upwards of $20,000 since it opened last July. The Center was created by the Chamber to participate in the PA Wilds Artisan Trail and represents over 50 local artisans.
People involved with the Pennsylvania Wilds are convinced that these early numbers are just the beginning of what will be seen this season. The current economy will give Pennsylvanians and their close neighbors an opportunity to discover the treasures in their own back yards, giving the local economies a much needed boost.
For more information visit the website at www.pawilds.com.
Mike Wennin is the executive director of the Lumber Heritage Region of Pennsylvania, Inc.