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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

PA Wilds Planning Team recognizes outstanding efforts in sustainable tourism development

PA Wilds Planning Team recognizes outstanding efforts in sustainable tourism development 

Thirteen residents, small business owners, local organizations across region earn awards

April 16 – A small group of business owners, citizens and organizations from across the 12 ½ county Pennsylvania Wilds region have earned awards for their contributions in sustainable tourism development and will be honored at a awards dinner and regional tourism briefing May 2.

 The public is invited to attend. The deadline to RSVP is Mon., April 22.

Americans spend more than $600 billion a year on outdoor gear and trips and travel to get outdoors, and communities in the Pennsylvania Wilds are in great position to grow this industry given the region’s natural landscape and manufacturing background. For the last several years, dozens of local, state and federal partners from the public and private sectors have worked together to do just that in order to create jobs, diversify local economies, improve quality of life and inspire stewardship in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Each year, the PA Wilds Planning Team, a guiding body in this effort, gives out a small number of “Champion of the Pennsylvania Wilds” awards to recognize outstanding efforts by local partners in this work.

Awards Committee Chair Jodi Foster said there were a record number of applications this year and competition was fierce. “It was truly humbling to the members of the committee to be tasked with trying to decide the winners this year,” Foster said. “There is so much great work being done in the Pennsylvania Wilds region. Whether it is opening a new business, organizing an event or working to conserve our natural resources, their hard work benefits residents and visitors alike. The PA Wilds Planning Team recognizes the tremendous effort put forth by so many dedicated individuals and groups and are proud to be able to honor them with these awards. Congratulations and keep up the good work!”

The 2013 Champion of the PA Wilds award winners are listed below. The winners will be recognized with a wooden plaque and citations from state and federal legislators at the Planning Team’s annual briefing and awards dinner May 2 at the Red Fern in St Marys.

Media and the public are invited to attend the May 2 event, which will also include an update on progress made in the last year on sustainable tourism development and a keynote presentation by the director of the Center for Rural PA called “Engaging Youth in the Pennsylvania Wilds.” RSVPs are required no later than Mon., April 22. Cost is $20 and includes dinner. To RSVP call 814-545-1333 or email candih@pottercountyedcouncil.org.

The Planning Team consists of more than 50 partners and stakeholders from across the PA Wilds, including county governments, economic development organizations, state and federal partners, and heritage and tourism organizations. The region includes the counties of Warren, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Lycoming, Clinton, Cameron, Forest, Jefferson, Elk, Clearfield, Clarion and northern Centre.

2013 CHAMPION OF THE PENNSYLVANIA WILDS AWARD WINNERS

BUSINESS OF THE YEAR
Benezette Wines
Doug and Sylvia Ruffo earned this award for their great start-up business, Benezette Wines, which opened last summer at the base of Winslow Hill. Their products celebrate local history and wildlife while tying into the Pennsylvania Wilds brand; and their deck and superb customer service add to the elk country experience. The owners have also been instrumental in bringing businesses in the area together to attract visitors during the off season and better pass foot traffic to each other. Doug and Sylvia care about the Benezette area and are spearheading some local clean-up efforts as well.

INSPIRING YOUTH AWARD
Don Bickford
As leader of the Cameron County Youth Activities Program, Don Bickford has reached hundreds of kids from all walks of life and instilled in them a greater love and respect for the treasures in their backyard -- the Pennsylvania Wilds. From ice fishing clinics to raptor viewing to exploring the stars at Cherry Spring State Park, Bickford and his many volunteers are helping shape the next generation of stewards of our tremendous region.

CONSERVATION STEWARDSHIP AWARD
Kim Bonfardine
Kim Bonfardine is a watershed specialist for Elk County but her devotion to her community and to conservation goes well beyond the normal workday. Kim is involved in two Trout Unlimited groups, two watershed groups, and many other volunteer efforts. She was also instrumental in developing a stream water quality program in order to obtain baseline data for the streams in Elk County. Her dedication to restoring one of the Pennsylvania Wilds’ most scarred watersheds helped the Bennett Branch Watershed Association garner a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2013 and an Outstanding Watershed Restoration Achievement Award in 2012. Kim has made it her mission in life to promote clean water and protect Elk County’s watershed. Her energy and enthusiasm for her work is infectious and touches everyone lucky enough to work with her.

CONSERVATION STEWARDSHIP AWARD
Pennsylvania Wildlife Habitat Unlimited
Created in 1985 by a small group of outdoors men and women, Pennsylvania Wildlife Habitat Unlimited today has nearly 200 members. This dedicated group of volunteers has many active projects all year long that are helping protect and improve wildlife habitat for future generations in order to make the Pennsylvania Wilds a better place to live and visit. Some of their projects include: litter clean-up efforts, building splash dams for fish habitat, providing scholarships to young people studying wildlife conservation at Penn State DuBois, sending kids to the Potter County Junior Conservation School each year, and making sure local libraries have a subscription to PA Game News. The group is probably best known for its Clearfield County Youth Field Day event, where it takes 125 youth ages 8 to 14 through nine stations including water safety, canoeing, wildlife identification, fishing, stream life, shooting, archery and trapping.

CONSERVATION STEWARDSHIP AWARD
Jackie Flynn
As an Environmental Education Specialist for Sinnemahoning State Park, Jackie Flynn is well known for her enthusiasm in sharing the wonders of the natural world with anyone with whom she crosses paths. Jackie is well-versed in all aspects of conservation education and interpretation and has a love and aptitude for creating popular and meaningful hands-on experiential programming. She was the force behind Sinnemahoning’s incredibly popular “Women in the Wilds” program, which expanded on a similar effort by the Wild Turkey Federation by covering new and different topics and specifically bringing the Pennsylvania Wilds to life for new audiences. Hundreds of women have participated in the program -- some have even gone on to become long-term park stewards, volunteers and campground hosts. Jackie has earned high praise for other programs, too, such as “Birds N Brunch,” which highlighted the wildlife diversity at Sinnemahoning; boating and fishing excursions for retired and disabled veterans; the park’s Eagle-Watch Program; and
the “Pull-a-Thons” she organized to draw attention to the devastating effects of invasive species like “mile-a-minute” that threaten park ecology. Jackie understood the value and importance of actively engaging the public in stewardship efforts and was always willing to welcome visitors into this rewarding work. Jackie recently retired from PA DCNR but many of the programs she created live on and better – are now used as models.

GREAT PLACES AWARD
Station Gallery
The Clinton County Arts Council and its many partners moved a dilapidated 19th century train station four miles down the road and rehabbed it into a modern gallery that is now a star on the PA Wilds Artisan Trail. It was a big project for the small non-profit but the risk paid off: the project re-invigorated their organization and is now helping revitalize downtown Lock Haven with upwards of 150 visitors for each new show opening. The Station Gallery beautifully marries the old and new and radiates creativity and possibility.

GREAT EVENT AWARD
Warren County Winterfest
Warren County Winterfest is one of the largest winter events in the Pennsylvania Wilds, drawing upwards of 12,000 in peak years to Chapman State Park to enjoy sled riding, ice fishing, ice skating, snow shoeing, snow sculpting, chainsaw carvings, and horse-drawn trolley rides. The sled-dog racing includes a championship canine weight pull, a variety of sprint races (0.5 to 12 miles), a 32-mile mid-distance race and a Tales of the Tundra exhibit for rescuing dogs. Exhibits include snowmobile dealers, food & craft vendors, an Ice Safety Demo and a mobile unit from the Veteran’s Administration. Many also participate in the Polar Bear Plunge, “freezin’ for a reason” with a dip in the icy waters of the West Branch Tionesta Creek to benefit charity. Organizers do a great job of tying this longtime authentic local event into the Pennsylvania Wilds brand through use of the Pennsylvania Wilds logo and other brand elements.

ARTISAN OF THE YEAR
Nelson Haas
Nelson Haas, a retired state trooper, is a self-taught pen and ink, graphite and colored pencil artist best known for his depictions of the Pennsylvania Wilds’ tremendous wildlife and wild places. Many of his sketches are accompanied by witty, informative hand-written narratives making them a staple on the walls of many camps and used by newspapers in their editorial pages. Nelson was one of the first artisans in the region to be juried into the PA Wilds Artisan Trail, has his work featured in exhibits at the Elk Country Visitor Center and was also an important voice in the discussion to open the Cameron County Artisan Center, now a star attraction on the trail and an important venue for local artisans to sell their products.

OUTSTANDING LEADER AWARD
Donald Hull
For more than four decades Donald “Corky” Hull has advocated for trails in McKean and surrounding counties, fostering a positive attitude among a wide variety of partners and successfully forging bonds with private landowners, forestry companies and oil and gas companies to help make various trail projects – motorized and non-motorized – a reality. Since founding Seneca Highlands Snowmobile Association in 1972, Corky has helped chart and develop well over a hundred miles of winter trails, negotiated trail agreements and taken the lead in building and maintaining bridges and passages over a vast network of trails. He’s participated in regional greenways planning and helped guide the work of the Potato Creek Trail Association. Corky’s interpersonal skills, vision and unsinkable determination, coupled with his “old-school” approach to problem-solving, are a source of inspiration to others.

OUTSTANDING LEADER AWARD
Bob Imhof
All big efforts have key people behind them and Bob Imhof is one of those when it comes to growing nature and heritage tourism in rural PA. Many know Bob for his volunteer work on the Ridgway Heritage Council or his passion for mapping historical railroad grades; always upbeat, he is the person many turn to for historical facts about a wide range of local subjects. Less known is that Bob provided tremendous professional and personal support in the creation of the
Lumber Heritage Region and the Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team back when these were new concepts that needed local champions to gain traction. These organizations have gone on to build capacity and open the region to new funding streams and sustained collective planning and bring to life a variety of projects that make the region a better place to live, work and visit. And Bob is still out there, singing their praises. So we decided to sing his.

OUTSTANDING LEADER AWARD
Joe Colosimo
Joe Colosimo was the spark behind the multi-phase effort to get recreation upgrades on the Allegheny National Forest near the Allegheny Reservoir and interpret the incredible story of the area for visitors and residents. This project, known as Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, won a Champion Award in 2011 but this all-volunteer group and its partners singled Joe out for Outstanding Leader for his ability to consistently bring opposing groups together for a common goal; think big; find creative solutions; and keep internal and external partners focused on immediate goals until success is realized. If Joe and his team have their way, the Pennsylvania Wilds will in a few years have another star attraction: The Trails at Jakes Rocks, a world class mountain biking system on the national forest.

GREAT DESIGN AWARD
STEP, Inc
In 2008, the Lycoming-Clinton Counties Commission for Community Action (STEP, Inc.) and the
Clinton County Commissioners used the PA Wilds Design Guide and concepts put forth at the 2007 PA Wilds Conference to develop a program to help rehabilitate homes along Route 120 – a popular and important scenic route used by residents and visitors to the Pennsylvania Wilds. The "Clinton County Scenic By-Way State Route 120 HOME Program," as it became known, aimed to fix up homes of income-eligible homeowners along Route 120 in a way that adhered to the Pennsylvania Wilds Design Guide while addressing local issues and complementing the region’s tourism and revitalization strategies. STEP secured $500,000 from DCED’s HOME Program as well as local and federal funds for a total program budget of $693,050. Several homes have been rehabilitated and a total of 25 are expected to be by the end of this year. The economic and community impact of the program is significant, contributing to increased property values, a higher quality of life and a sense of community pride for area residents.

PENNSYLVANIA WILDS PLANNING TEAM MEMBER OF THE YEAR AWARD
Jim Weaver
A few years ago, as deep-well gas drilling started to take off in parts of the Pennsylvania Wilds, Tioga County Planner Jim Weaver recognized the need for communities to adapt and adjust to new opportunities and challenges that unconventional gas development presents to the region. In response, Jim spearheaded the formation of the Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team’s Oil & Gas Committee. Among its objectives: to understand and provide a forum for the Planning Team and its stakeholders to think through the issues surrounding the development of oil and gas and to be proactive in anticipating, minimizing, and/or mitigating anticipated impacts in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Under Jim’s leadership the committee has compiled and published a Marcellus Shale Resource Guide and is now working with industry leaders and design professionals to compile a set of voluntary design standards related to oil and gas development to be included in the Pennsylvania Wilds Design Guide. The standards will use real-life case studies from around the region to highlight best practices.