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Monday, September 23, 2013

Results From McKean County Raceway



September 22, 2013

(East Smethport, PA)...The Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Dirt Late Model Touring Series wrapped up the eighth annual "Fall Classic" on an overcast and brisk 55-degree Sunday afternoon at McKean County Raceway. The third day of the traditional event was postponed to Sunday after some two inches of rain fell throughout the day on Saturday. Thirty-seven drivers from all over Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and Maryland participated in race #19 of the 24 event slate.

Max Blair won an amazing eight of the nine regular events he entered this season at McKean on his way to the track championship; however, the $5,000 Sweeney Weekly Series and $3,000 Pace Summer Chase Champion had only been able to win one of the four Sweeney Tour events he competed in this season at his home track. On Sunday afternoon, Blair brought down the curtain on McKean's season with his fourth Tour win of the season. Blair passed nemesis Mike Pegher, Jr. with nine laps to go to claim the $1,500 victory- the 10th of the season for him at the East Smethport, Pa. oval.

"It's been a real good weekend, but I think Friday night should have been better and we could have had that one; it didn't work out for us, but that's okay- we made up for it today," explained the 23-year-old Centerville, Pa. winner. "You can't win if you follow so you have to move around and try to make something happen. We made it happen last week at Sharon and did it again today so that's awesome! I have to thank my dad first and foremost, all of my sponsors, and all of the guys that help out- without them none of this is possible."

After a dominating K&N Dash win, Chad Ruhlman, who was looking for his first Sweeney Tour and McKean victory of the season, couldn't hold off Pegher as the Sweeney Tour point leader took the early lead using the outside. Blair was third after one lap, while Ed Carley and Ryan Montgomery passed Zack Carley for fourth and fifth respectively.

By lap four, the top four of Blair, Ruhlman, Pegher, and Carley pulled away. Pegher began to distance himself from Ruhlman on lap five, while Blair began to pressure Ruhlman for second. After eight non-sop laps the caution was displayed for debris. When racing resumed, Ruhlman tried a move on Pegher, but slipped high allowing Blair to take runner-up; meanwhile, Carley got shuffled out after contact with Montgomery as Montgomery took fourth and ninth starting Damian Bidwell followed in fifth.

After a caution for Cody Mason, Montgomery continued to move forward as he passed Ruhlman for third, but two laps later Ruhlman regained the spot. Montgomery then dropped back to fifth on lap 13 when Bidwell snuck under for fourth. Jason Knowles got into Cody Mason and collected Butch Lambert necessitating the caution with 16 laps scored.

Like last Saturday at Sharon, it was a huge break for Blair as he lined up alongside Pegher. And just like at Sharon when Blair passed Pegher on the outside for the $2,000 victory, Blair made the identical move getting a great run on the outside of Pegher in turns one and two to power by Pegher to lead lap 17. Bidwell continued moving forward as he used the outside as well to get by Ruhlman for third on the restart.

Montgomery got himself back into contention as he passed Ruhlman for fourth on lap 18 then followed Bidwell past Pegher on a lap 20 restart for third. Bidwell and Montgomery resumed their battle from Friday night and Montgomery would get the better of it as he passed the local favorite on lap 21 for runner-up.

Up front, it was all Blair in his Specialty Products/Moody & Son Welding/Wescoat Excavating/Bobby Lake Motorsports/Genesis Shocks/VP Racing Fuels-sponsored #111 Rocket Chassis as his fourth Sweeney Tour win tied Pegher for tops in the Series. Blair also gained another spot in the Sweeney Tour points up to ninth.

Montgomery was second for the fifth time in the past 11 events and recorded his 13th top four finish in 19 events. "It's definitely different today," said the 16-year-old Fairmont, West Virginia standout. "It's day racing so if you mess up just a little bit it goes a long way. I got up to third then messed up on my restart, fell back to fifth then slowly made my way back through. About an hour after we got the car out of the trailer today we realized the rear end was broke so we threw it together in time for the heat race to run second. We started sixth and worked our way up through. It was a stressful day, but it all paid off in the end."

After a 16th and a 14th in his prior two McKean Tour events, Bidwell had a solid third. "I wish we had a better finish on Friday night," expressed the Eldred, Pa. youngster. "We went too soft on the tire today. If we had a harder tire I think we might have had something for Max. I'd like to thank all of my sponsors for making this possible."

Pegher dropped to fourth for his 15th top four finish in 19 Sweeney Tour races and leads Montgomery by 21 points. Ed Carley edged out 15th starting Bryce Davis for fifth after the two swapped the position back and forth. Carley was also fifth on Friday night as he was able to finish in the top seven in all five Sweeney Tour events at McKean.

John Waters was seventh. Pole-sitter Ruhlman dropped to eighth, but was able to gain a spot in points to fifth. K&N Dash pole-sitter Zack Carley, who was a career best Sweeney Tour runner-up on Friday night, fell back to ninth at the finish after losing his hood earlier in the race. Dan Davies subbed for Justin Tatlow in Lewy Kratts' #81 and had a solid showing finishing 10th. Davies had to start tail of his heat after not qualifying on Friday night then after transferring through the first B main, Davies came from the 23rd starting spot in the feature to earn the $100 Precise Racing Products gift card for being the "Pedal Down" Hard Charger.

Blair, Ruhlman, Pegher, and Zack Carley won the heat races, while Jason Genco and Knowles won the last chance B mains. Ruhlman became just the third driver to win multiple K&N Dashes this year and earned the $100 K&N certificate. Pegher received a $50 K&N certificate for second, while Blair and Zack Carley received $25 cash for finishing third and fourth respectively. Blair also set fast time back on Thursday night for the show with a lap of 15.807 to bring his event's earnings to $1,675.    

Richard "Critter" Hemphill was awarded The Brake Man's "Tough Brake of the Night". Hemphill was running in the second and final transfer spot in the second last chance B main only to get caught up in an accident when his RACEceiver failed. Hemphill came back through the field to second again, but lost the spot to Brad Mesler then spun trying a move in turn four on the final lap.

The next event on the Sweeney Tour will be race #20 of 24 at Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex in Markleysburg, Pa. for the $2,000 to-win "Bill Hendren Memorial" September 27-28. Thousands of dollars in contingencies will also be on given away. It will be a qualifying event with $100 Bobby Lake Motorsports "Shock the Clock" qualifying and $25 to-win heat races on Friday night.

Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Dirt Late Model Touring Series Race #19 (25 laps, $1,500 to-win): 1. MAX BLAIR (111) 2. Ryan Montgomery (12) 3. Damian Bidwell (17) 4. Mike Pegher, Jr. (Geisler 1c) 5. Ed Carley (28) 6. Bryce Davis (94) 7. John Waters (LeBarron 11) 8. Chad Ruhlman (Suppa 4s) 9. Zack Carley (8) 10. Dan Davies (Kratts 81) 11. Ward Schell (Baker 74) 12. Butch Lambert (27) 13. Dusty Waters (14) 14. Ralph Morgan, Jr. (Powell 100) 15. Justin Smith (22) 16. Doug Ricotta (01) 17. Bruno Mowery (29) 18. Cody Mason (MR1) 19. Brad Mesler (24B) 20. Adam Sixt (6T) 21. Jason Knowles (4) 22. Joe Buccola, Jr. (5B) 23. Shane Weaver (Ruffner 325x)-DSQ (unsportsmanlike conduct) 24. Jason Genco (29J)-DSQ (unsportsmanlike conduct).

DNQ: Matt Harvey (4), Garret Stephen (79), Miles Stitzinger, Jr. (Cole 43s), Richard Hemphill, Jr. (31), Bob Kish (5), Skip Jackson (52x), Garrett Mott (43x), Bill Mesler (15), Cody Dawson (36), Chad McClellan (119), Paul Grigsby (24), Junior Peters (00), Craig Dean (21).

Car Count: 37
Feature Lap Leaders: Pegher (1-16), Blair (17-25)
Precise Racing Products "Pedal Down Hard Charger":Dan Davies (+13)
The Brake Man "Tough Brake of the Night: Richard Hemphill, Jr.

Qualifying ($150 for fast time): 1. Max Blair 15.807 2. Chad Ruhlman 15.909 3. John Waters 15.982 4. Chad McClellan 16.006 5. Ed Carley 16.057 6. Ryan Montgomery 16.066 7. Mike Pegher, Jr. 16.074 8. Mike Pegher, Jr. 16.074 9. Zack Carley 16.137 10. Damian Bidwell 16.148 11. Dusty Waters 16.178 12. Bryce Davis 16.194 13. Cody Mason 16.241 14. Paul Grigsby 16.264 15. Doug Ricotta 16.279 16. Ward Schell 16.367 17. Justin Smith 16.374 18. Shane Weaver 16.397 19. Butch Lambert 16.406 20. Jason Knowles 16.413 21. Bruno Mowery 16.440 22. Adam Sixt 16.470 23. Brad Mesler 16.475 24. Joe Buccola, Jr. 16.499 25. Jason Genco 16.502 26. Craig Dean 16.584 27. Bill Mesler 16.599 28. Ralph Morgan, Jr. 16.620 29. Justin Tatlow 16.637 30. Bob Kish 16.655 31. Garret Stephen 16.686 32. Richard Hemphill 16.691 33. Matt Harvey 16.715 34. Garrett Mott 16.790 35. Junior Peters 17.257 36. Skip Jackson 17.561 37. Miles Stitzinger, Jr. 18.502.

Heat 1 (8 laps, Top 5 transfer)1. Blair 2. E. Carley 3. Bidwell 4. Smith 5. Mowery 6. Genco 7. Davies 8. Harvey 9. Stitzinger 10. Dawson-DNS.

Heat 2 (8 laps, Top 5 transfer)1. Ruhlman 2. Montgomery 3. D. Waters 4. Weaver 5. Sixt 6. Mott 7. Kish 8. Grigsby-DNS 9. Dean-DNS.

Heat 3 (8 laps, Top 5 transfer)1. Pegher 2. J. Waters 3. Ricotta 4. Davis 5. Lambert 6. Br. Mesler 7. Bi. Mesler 8. Stephen 9. Peters-DNS.

 Heat 4 (8 laps, Top 5 transfer)1. Z. Carley 2. Schell 3. Mason 4. Buccola 5. Morgan 6. Knowles 7. Hemphill 8. Jackson 9. McClellan-DNS.

K&N "Cold Air Induction" Dash (4 laps/$100 K&N certificate to-win): 1. Chad Ruhlman 2. Mike Pegher, Jr. 3. Max Blair 4. Zack Carley

Last Chance B Main 1 (8 laps, Top 2 transfer): 1. Genco 2. Davies 3. Harvey 4. Stitzinger 5. Kish 6. Mott 7. Dawson-DNS 8. Grigsby-DNS 9. Dean-DNS.

Last Chance B Main 2 (8 laps, Top 2 transfer): 1. Knowles 2. Br. Mesler 3. Stephen 4. Hemphill 5. Jackson 6. Bi. Mesler 7. McClellan-DNS 8. Peters-DNS.

2013 RUSH marketing partners include Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Pace Performance, RainEater Wiper Blades, Hoosier Tire, Sunoco Race Fuels, Bazell Race Fuels, Precise Racing Products, ARbodies, The -Brake Man, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, TurboStart, K1 RaceGear, Beyea Headers, FK Rod Ends, Bobby Lake Motorsports, Wrisco Industries, High Gear Speed Shop, Utsinger's Towing,, and Valley Fashions.

E-mail can be sent to the RUSH Racing Series at and snail mail to 4368 Route 422, Pulaski, PA 16143. Office phone is 724-964-9300 and fax is 724-964-0604. The RUSH Racing Series website is Like our Facebook page at and follow us on Twitter @RUSHLM.

Sunday, September 22, 2013



Game Commission lifts requirement for hunters to take harvests to check stations.

Hunters harvesting deer in areas of Pennsylvania where chronic wasting disease has been found will need to comply with special rules during the upcoming hunting seasons.

But the Pennsylvania Game Commission for the 2013-14 seasons has removed the requirement for successful hunters within a Disease Management Area to take their harvests to a check station where samples can be collected for disease testing.

Instead, the Game Commission will use other methods to determine how prevalent the disease might be in areas where it has been found.

The changes correspond with changing circumstances in Pennsylvania regarding chronic wasting disease (CWD), a disease that always is fatal to deer, elk and moose but that is not known to be transmitted to humans.

When CWD first was detected in Pennsylvania in captive deer at an Adams County facility in 2012, there was no evidence any of the state’s free-ranging deer had been impacted by the disease. Intensive monitoring efforts that included requirements for certain Pennsylvania hunters to take their harvests to check stations were intended to determine whether CWD might have spread from the captive to the free-ranging deer population.

Since that time, however, positive CWD test results have been returned in relation to three free-ranging deer harvested by hunters in Blair and Bedford counties.

And now that CWD has been found among some of the state’s free-ranging deer, the Game Commission must focus on managing the disease rather than trying to prevent it, said Calvin DuBrock, director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management.

“Now that we know CWD is in the wild, our mission is to determine how prevalent it is in the areas in which it’s been found and to do what we can to slow its spread,” DuBrock said. “We have already begun collecting and testing samples to give us a clearer picture of the disease’s impact, and we will be asking hunters within the state’s two Disease Management Areas to comply with special rules, but there won’t be quite so many demands on hunters this year in relation to our monitoring.”

Hunting within Disease Management Areas

Special rules apply to hunters and residents within the state’s two Disease Management Areas (DMAs).

DMA 1 encompasses an about 600-square-mile area that includes parts of York and Adams counties. DMA 2 – which was established earlier this year as a result of CWD positives in free-ranging deer – spans nearly 900 square miles in parts of Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon and Cambria counties.

Detailed maps of those DMAs, which form their borders along roads and water courses, are available online at the Game Commission’s website,, and also appear on pages 53 and 54 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

Those hunting within either DMA need to know that deer carcass parts determined to have a high risk of transmitting CWD cannot be removed from the DMA.

High-risk parts include the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and any lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.

The meat from harvested deer may be removed from the DMAs, so long as it does not contain any high-risk parts. Hunters also may remove from the DMAs any cleaned skull plates with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present; capes, if no visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft tissue is present; and finished taxidermy mounts.

The use of urine-based deer attractants is prohibited within the DMAs, as is the direct or indirect feeding of wild, free-ranging deer.

Those who hunt within a DMA, but who live in another area, need to plan what they will do with any deer they harvest within the DMA.

Harvested deer can be taken to any cooperating processor or taxidermist associated with the DMA, and the processed meat or finished taxidermy mounts can be removed from the DMA when they are ready.

Hunters who want to process their own deer may remove the meat from the carcass and dispose of any high-risk parts at dumpsters to be set up at locations within the DMAs.

Proper disposal of high-risk parts is important because CWD can be transmitted from deer to deer through both direct and indirect contact, and dumping high-risk parts in areas where free-ranging deer might be exposed to them increases the risk of spreading the disease.

Sampling for CWD

The Game Commission has continued disease sampling on road-killed deer within the DMAs for the last several months, and the agency will collect some samples during the upcoming deer archery season. But the bulk of samples are likely to be collected during the regular two-week firearms season for deer, which opens Dec. 2.

The commission has set a goal of collecting 1,000 samples from each DMA. DuBrock said that testing 2,000 samples will provide biologists with a solid indication of how prevalent the disease is where it is known to have existed.

The Game Commission intends to stop sampling after it reaches the benchmarks.

The Game Commission will notify hunters of any deer that are sampled and test positive for CWD. However, hunters should understand that their deer, even when taken to a cooperating processor or taxidermist, might not be tested for the disease.

Some hunters might want to know for certain that a deer they harvest will be tested for CWD, and the only way to assure the animal will be tested is to take the harvested deer’s head to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture laboratory in Harrisburg. Transporting a deer head for disease testing is a permitted exception to the prohibition on removing high-risk parts from the DMA. Before transport, the head should be placed in a plastic garbage bag, with that bag then placed in a second plastic garbage bag.

Other high-risk parts should not be removed from a DMA and should be disposed of properly within the DMA instead.

Hunters who have their deer tested by the Department of Agriculture will need to pay a fee. Those interested in testing should call the Department of Agriculture at 717-787-8808 before making a trip there. More information about this process can be found by clicking on the CWD link of the Department of Agriculture’s website,

Chronic wasting disease is not known to be transmitted to humans; however, out of an abundance of caution, hunters are advised not to eat the meat from animals that test positive.

Hunters also are urged to never shoot deer that appear sick. Instead, deer that appear unhealthy should be reported to the nearest Game Commission regional office. Game Commission officers will investigate such reports.

Disposal of high-risk parts

While using a cooperating processor or taxidermist does not guarantee hunters that the deer they harvest will be tested for CWD, it does assure that the high-risk parts from harvests are given proper disposal.

Because CWD is transmitted from deer to deer both directly and indirectly, and because the prion that causes CWD can live in the soil – perhaps forever, hunters should never dump high-risk deer parts anywhere living deer might come in contact with them. Doing so only increases the risk of further spreading the disease.

Instead, hunters should make certain all high-risk deer parts make their way to a landfill for disposal.

Cooperating processors and taxidermists who are contracted by hunters for their services have pledged to properly dispose of high-risk parts. A list of cooperating processors and taxidermists is available at the Game Commission’s website, and will be updated regularly with any changes.

Some of the cooperating processors and taxidermists associated with either DMA might be located just beyond the DMA’s border. Hunters harvesting deer within the DMA may use those processors – this is another permitted exception to the prohibition on removal of high-risk parts. In such cases, deer should be taken directly from the DMA to the cooperating processor or taxidermist.

Hunters who process their own deer can dispose of high-risk parts by bagging them with other trash that’s destined for a landfill. Hunters within the DMAs also can take high-risk parts to one of four sites on state game lands – two in each DMA – where dumpsters will be set up to collect high-risk parts.

Collection sites in DMA 1 will be at State Game Lands 242 and State Game Lands 249, and in DMA 2, sites will be set up at State Game Lands 147 and State Game Lands 41.

Dumpsters at those sites will be available for use from the first day of the archery deer season until the close of the flintlock muzzleloader season (Oct. 2 to Jan. 11).

The exact locations of dumpsters can be found on the Game Commission’s website.

Information on CWD

Four public meetings have been scheduled – two in each DMA – to explain the rules that apply to hunters and to answer general questions about CWD.

The first meeting was on Sept. 17 in York County, and meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 25 at Spring Cove Middle School, 185 Spring Garden Drive in Roaring Spring, Blair County; on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at Bermudian Springs High School, 7335 Carlisle Pike in York Springs, Adams County; and on Monday, Oct. 28 at Northern Bedford High School, 152 NBC Drive in Loysburg, Bedford County.

All meetings start at about 6:15 p.m.

While chronic wasting disease is new to Pennsylvania, it is not a new disease. CWD first was discovered in 1967, and it has been researched since. Scientists believe CWD is caused by an unknown agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form.

There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, nor is there a vaccine. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately, death. There currently is no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to humans, either through contact with infected animals or by eating meat of infected animals.

Much more information on CWD, as well as a video showing hunters how they can process venison for transport and consumption, is available at the Game Commission’s website.

CWD precautions

Wildlife officials have suggested hunters in areas where chronic wasting disease (CWD) is known to exist follow these usual recommendations to prevent the possible spread of disease:

- Do not shoot, handle or consume any animal that appears sick; contact the state wildlife agency if you see or harvest an animal that appears sick.

- Wear rubber or latex gloves when field-dressing carcasses.

- Bone out the meat from your animal.

- Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.

- Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field-dressing is completed.

- Request that your animal is processed individually, without meat from other animals being added to meat from your animal, or process your own meat if you have the tools and ability to do so.

- Have your animal processed in the endemic area of the state where it was harvested, so that high-risk body parts can be properly disposed of there. Only bring permitted materials back to Pennsylvania

- Don’t consume the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils or lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will help remove remaining lymph nodes.)

- Consider not consuming the meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.

The McKean County Raceway


September 20, 2013

(East Smethport, PA)...The Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Dirt Late Model Touring Series participated in the eighth annual "Fall Classic" at McKean County Raceway. After qualifying on Thursday night set the heat race lineups for Friday night, a complete show was run on night two. Thirty-eight teams from all over Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and Maryland participated in race #18 of the 24-event slate.
In his first ever visit to McKean, Chad McClellan came out on top of a wild and bizarre $1,200 to-win feature event to become the 11th different Sweeney Tour winner of the season. McClellan rebounded from a poor qualifying time on Thursday night, a 19th place starting spot in the feature, then recovered from an early race accident, and survived an uncharacteristic caution-filled event that saw seven of the top eight finishers record their best Tour finish of the season.
"This is the luckiest I have ever been in my life," expressed the 39-year-old Stoystown, Pa. racer. "I didn't know what was going on at times, but this is where we ended up! This is the first time I've ever been here- it's four hours from home, but is a beautiful facility. I have to thank the fans, everyone that helps on the car, and all of my sponsors."
Via his K&N Dash win, Ryan Montgomery raced into the early lead from the pole position over Damian Bidwell. John Waters was making his first ever start in a Crate Late Model and passed Paul Grigsby for third. Standouts Mike Pegher, Jr. and Max Blair were fifth and sixth after the opening lap.

After a pair of four-car cautions, one of which included eventual winner, Chad McClellan, Bidwell took the advantage on the restart for the lead, while Pegher passed both Grigsby and Waters for the third spot. Two more cautions were displayed for back-to-back spins by Jason Knowles and Cody Mason.

When action resumed, this time Montgomery regained the lead on lap six and opened up an advantage. By lap eight, the battle was on for second with Bidwell trying to fend off Pegher and Blair before a caution for Dusty Waters. When green replaced yellow, three more laps were scored before the second caution by Mason and the sixth caution of the event two laps short of halfway.

Montgomery and Bidwell were warned repeatedly throughout the event about their restart methods and after another poor restart that resulted in the start being called back, both racers were moved back a row putting Pegher and Blair on the front row. Pegher and Blair now resumed their front row battle from one week ago when Blair got by Pegher on a late restart to win at Sharon Speedway.

Unlike at Sharon, this time Pegher held off Blair to lead lap 12 when John Waters and Zack Carley passed Montgomery for third. While Pegher continued to lead Blair, the battle for third on back was hot and heavy as the positions were changing constantly. Bidwell held the third spot, but Montgomery, Chad Ruhlman, Carley, and Waters were really going at it. Montgomery got himself back to fourth on lap 17 and Ruhlman worked into fifth.
Blair was staying right with Pegher as the laps ticked off. Garrett Mott had gotten out of shape and kept going, and though it wasn't immediately close to the leaders, Pegher and Blair closed every lap and Pegher was right on Mott on lap 21. This was the opportunity Blair needed to make a move for his 10th win of the season at McKean.
Blair followed Pegher and with two to go began to look to the outside with the thought of passing Pegher for the lead and clearing Mott. Blair made his move and it looked like might have the pass of Pegher made with two laps to go, but contact between Pegher and Mott in turn four sent Blair spinning across the middle of the frontstretch. The accident also collected Montgomery and Bidwell. Ruhlman would have inherited second, but he pitted with a flat tire.

Track promoters John Kennedy and Chris Zuver instituted a "one minute per lap time limit" on all races Friday night due to having four make-up features on top of the seven divisions in competition. As was the case in other divisions earlier in the night, when the time expired under caution, a green-white-checkered finish was ordered.

One chance at the green-white-checkered finish would now take place as racing resumed. John Waters found himself in second and went for it on the restart; however, made contact with Pegher sending Pegher around. Waters was charging with rough driving, while Pegher was awarded The Brake Man's "Tough Brake of the Night".

When everything cleared, McClellan emerged the winner of the wild feature event in his Fieg Coal/Hoosier Tire Mid-Atlantic/Ingram Race Engines/Lazer Chassis #119. McClellan, who also has five wins at Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex, jumps from sixth to fourth in the Sweeney Weekly Series Championship!

Tenth starting Zack Carley was second for his best ever Sweeney Tour finish. Brad Mesler was third after starting 23rd and received his first $100 Precise Racing Products "Pedal Down Hard Charger" certificate. Matt Harvey ironically started alongside Mesler in row 12 and also improved 20 positions to fourth at the finish! Mesler was awarded the hard charger due to his higher finish.
After starting 13th and progressively moving forward, Ed Carley rebounded from nearly spinning out earlier in the event. The elder Carley lost several spots as he recovered by driving through part of the backstretch infield and was credited with fifth in the final rundown. It was Carley's third straight top five Sweeney Tour finish at McKean after finishing seventh at the opening event on May 23.
Butch Lambert, who started 18th, was scored in sixth for his best finish of the season besting his seventh at the McKean Speedweek event on July 11. Adam Sixt, Grigsby, Dusty Waters, and Knowles, who made his first start of the season, completed the top 10. Both Pegher and Montgomery's string of six straight top four Sweeney Tour finishes came to an end Friday night.

Ruhlman set fast time on Thursday night with a lap of 15.550 and earned $150. Heat race winners were Ruhlman, Blair, Pegher, and John Waters, while Doug Ricotta and Ward Schell captured the B mains. Montgomery became just the second driver in 18 events to win his second K&N "Cold Air Induction" Dash. The K&N point leader received a $100 K&N certificate, while Bidwell received a $50 K&N certificate for second. Grigsby and John Waters received $25 cash for finishing third and fourth.  

Ralph Morgan, Jr. was the ARbodies "Nosed Out" winner. Driving the John Powell-owned #100, Morgan was the first driver to fail to qualify for the feature and received a nose kit valued at approximately $250. Dusty Waters was the lucky recipient of the TurboStart 16-volt racing battery valued at approximately $250.
The next event on the Sweeney Tour will be race #19 of 24 at McKean County Raceway on Sunday afternoon for $2,000 to-win, $250 to-start.  It'll be a complete show with heat races, the K&N Dash, last chance B mains, and the 30-lap feature. Pits open at 10 a.m. with racing at 1 p.m.
Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Dirt Late Model Touring Series Race #18 (23 laps, $1,200 to-win): 1. CHAD MCCLELLAN (119) 2. Zack Carley (8) 3. Brad Mesler (24B) 4. Matt Harvey (4) 5. Ed Carley (28) 6. Butch Lambert (27) 7. Adam Sixt (6T) 8. Paul Grigsby (24B) 9. Dusty Waters (14) 10. Jason Knowles (4) 11. Ward Schell (Baker 74) 12. Bob Kish (5) 13. Garrett Mott (43x) 14. Damian Bidwell (17) 15. Justin Tatlow (81) 16. Mike Pegher, Jr. (Geisler 1c) 17. John Waters (Lebarron 11) 18. Max Blair (111) 19. Ryan Montgomery (12) 20. Chad Ruhlman (Suppa 4s) 21. Doug Ricotta (01) 22. Cody Dawson (36) 23. Shane Weaver (Ruffner 325x) 24. Cody Mason (MR1) 25. Jason Genco (29J) 26. Rick Singleton (Enyeart 99*) 27. Bryce Davis (94). Note: Rick Singleton received a Touring provisional. Garrett Mott & Bob Kish each received a Track provisional.

DNQ: Ralph Morgan, Jr. (Powell 100), Justin Smith (22), Bill Mesler (15), Garret Stephen (79), Richard Hemphill (31), Joe Buccola, Jr. (5B), Craig Dean (21), Skip Jackson (52x), Miles Stitzinger, Jr. (Cole 43s), Junior Peters (00), Bruno Mowery (48).
Car Count: 38
Feature Lap Leaders: Montgomery (1-2, 6-11), Bidwell (3-5), Pegher (12-22), McClellan (23)
Precise Racing Products "Pedal Down Hard Charger": Brad Mesler (+20)
The Brake Man "Tough Brake of the Night: Mike Pegher, Jr.
ARbodies "Nosed Out": Ralph Morgan, Jr.
TurboStart Battery Giveaway: Dusty Waters

Qualifying ($150 for fast time): 1. Chad Ruhlman 15.550 2. Max Blair 15.756 3. Mike Pegher, Jr. 15.851 4. John Waters 15.917 5. Dusty Waters 15.933 6. Damian Bidwell 16.058 7. Ryan Montgomery 16.127 8. Shane Weaver 16.150 9. Paul Grigsby 16.250 10. Zack Carley 16.263 11. Jason Genco 16.275 12. Bryce Davis 16.275 13. Ed Carley 16.291 14. Adam Sixt 16.354 15. Cody Mason 16.372 16. Ward Schell 16.380 17. Brad Mesler 16.413 18. Butch Lambert 16.421 19. Garrett Mott 16.422 20. Jason Knowles 16.490 21. Cody Dawson 16.497 22. Justin Smith 16.559 23. Richard Hemphill 16.564 24. Matt Harvey 16.585 25. Doug Ricotta 16.587 26. Garret Stephen 16.595 27. Chad McClellan 16.608 28. Bob Kish 16.614 29. Joe Buccola, Jr. 16.625 30. Ralph Morgan, Jr. 16.638 31. Bill Mesler 16.654 32. Justin Tatlow 16.726 33. Bruno Mowery 16.752 34. Craig Dean 16.954 35. Junior Peters 17.135 36. Skip Jackson 17.352 37. Miles Stitzinger, Jr. NT 38. Rick Singleton NT.
Heat 1 (10 laps, Top 5 transfer)1. Ruhlman 2. Grigsby 3. Dawson 4. E. Carley 5. D. Waters 6. Ricotta 7. Buccola 8. Br. Mesler 9. Mowery 10. Stitzinger.
Heat 2 (10 laps, Top 5 transfer)1. Blair 2. Bidwell 3. Z. Carley 4. Sixt 5. Lambert 6. Smith 7. Dean 8. Morgan 9. Singleton 10. Stephen.

Heat 3 (10 laps, Top 5 transfer)1. Pegher 2. Montgomery 3. Genco 4. Mason 5. McClellan 6. Hemphill 7. Bi. Mesler 8. Mott 9. Peters .

Heat 4 (8 laps, Top 5 transfer)1. J. Waters 2. Davis 3. Knowles 4. Weaver 5. Tatlow 6. Schell 7. Harvey 8. Kish 9. Jackson.

K&N "Cold Air Induction" Dash (4 laps/$100 K&N certificate to-win): 1. Ryan Montgomery 2. Damian Bidwell 3. Paul Grigsby 4. John Waters.

Last Chance B Main 1 (10 laps, Top 2 transfer): 1. Ricotta 2. Br. Mesler 3. Singleton 4. Morgan 5. Smith 6. Stephen 7. Dean 8. Buccola 9. Stitzinger 10. Mowery.

Last Chance B Main 2 (10 laps, Top 2 transfer): 1. Schell 2. Harvey 3. Kish 4. Mott 5. Bi. Mesler 6. Hemphill 7. Jackson 8. Peters.
2013 RUSH marketing partners include Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Pace Performance, RainEater Wiper Blades, Hoosier Tire, Sunoco Race Fuels, Bazell Race Fuels, Precise Racing Products, ARbodies, The -Brake Man, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, TurboStart, K1 RaceGear, Beyea Headers, FK Rod Ends, Bobby Lake Motorsports, Wrisco Industries, High Gear Speed Shop, Utsinger's Towing,, and Valley Fashions.

E-mail can be sent to the RUSH Racing Series at and snail mail to 4368 Route 422, Pulaski, PA 16143. Office phone is 724-964-9300 and fax is 724-964-0604. The RUSH Racing Series website is Like our Facebook page at and follow us on Twitter @RUSHLM.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Antler Attraction: They Come From All Over to Pennsylvania's Elk Country

Antler Attraction: They Come From All Over to Pennsylvania's Elk Country

This scene at the Elk Country Visitors Center is not uncommon
This scene at the Elk Country Visitors Center is not uncommon

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Every year at this time thousands of people flock to a string of small villages in the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds to watch and listen as the largest wild elk herd in the Northeast enters peak bugling season.

The license plates on the vehicles going into remote Bennetts Valley tell the story: New York. Pennsylvania. Virginia. Florida. Ohio. Bull elk spar in people’s yards. Dozens of cow elk and calves graze in fields near the new Elk Country Visitor Center. Elk lumber down roads, hang out in parking lots, walk through the middle of town. Big signs read: “Entering Pennsylvania’s Elk Range. Do Not Stop On Roadway. Respect Private Property.”

It is an incredible thing to witness, and people’s interest in experiencing it is driving another story unfolding here: that conserving and developing this resource was a very good idea for the region’s economy.

In the villages that surround the new Elk Country Visitor Center and in the larger towns beyond its immediate shadow, small locally-owned businesses are popping up or expanding to meet the growing demand of elk tourism, creating jobs and helping to make the Pennsylvania Wilds one of the state’s fastest-growing tourism regions.

Opportunities Everywhere
Pennsylvania’s elk weren’t always a draw. They were hunted to extinction in the late 1800s and gone from the state’s landscape completely for about 50 years when in 1913 the Pennsylvania Game Commission reintroduced them to PA; 177 came by train from Yellowstone National Park.

The herd made a comeback, but by the early 1980s, things did not look good, according to Rawley Cogan, president of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance (KECA), the nonprofit conservation group that runs the new Elk Country Visitor Center for the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who owns the facility.

“When I came here in ’82 we had about 100 elk,” said Cogan, who used to work as a biologist for the Game Commission. “Not many people knew they were here and even fewer cared.”

The assumption at first was that brain worm was killing the elk, Cogan said, but then studies showed that accounted for less than 1 percent of elk deaths and that the real problem was people. Poaching, problems with crop degradation -- “I kid you not I would spend the better part of my shift chasing dead elk,” Cogan said.

With hard work by the PGC, DCNR and other wildlife organizations to expand and improve elk habitat and build public awareness about the elk herd’s potential, its numbers have increased nine fold and visitation has followed suit.

“I remember Winslow Hill in the evening and there would be six cars and that would be a big deal,” Cogan said. “Things really started to ramp up in the middle to late 90s. It was all word of mouth. You started to see small traffic jams. There was no destination point. We needed a destination.”

DCNR worked with partners to fund a study by Fermata Inc on not only the potential of elk tourism in the area but how to mitigate negative impacts to the surrounding community.  It was the 2002 “Plan for Elk Watching and Nature Tourism in North Central Pennsylvania” that called for a variety of measures including the construction of the Elk Country Visitor Center, a world-class conservation education facility that could orient the visitor and provide them important information about safe and respectful elk viewing. It also laid the groundwork for the Pennsylvania Wilds as a regional outdoor recreation destination.

DCNR built the center atop Winslow Hill using $6 million in tax dollars and another $6 million in private-sector donations. KECA operates the center using money raised from the private sector. In the three years since it opened, annual attendance has grown from 80,000 to 200,000 and KECA’s staff has doubled from 5 to 10 to meet the demand. The center’s gift shop has become an economic engine, too, not only supporting elk conservation but many local artisans and vendors. The gift shop sells only American-made products, and about 70 percent of the vendors are from Pennsylvania, Cogan said. Many are “Proudly Made in the Pennsylvania Wilds” products by artisans from the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Vern DeLong, from Johnsonburg about an hour north, sells chocolate-covered candies at the gift shop under cheeky labels like “elk balls” and “dragon fly droppings” – a side business he started a few years ago when he sensed his manufacturing job wasn’t going to be around a lot longer. DeLong said he had hoped to sell $1,500 worth of chocolates in a month at the gift shop and was stunned when they called during peak season to say he’d sold that much in a day – bring more product.

“It was a life changer,” DeLong said. “We’re in the middle of nowhere up here. It gave you hope. The opportunities are everywhere.”

Visitor Center Growth
The economic impact goes well beyond the center’s front doors.  

At the base of Winslow Hill in Benezette, the Old Bull CafĂ© opened this month in a renovated church. A block away, Doug and Sylvia Ruffo, longtime visitors to the area, retired here last year and opened Benezette Wines in a remodeled garage space. A few doors away, Brian Kunes and Matt Castle have transformed the Benezette Hotel from a town bar into a family-friendly restaurant. Benezette Hotel has grown at about 10 percent a year and just went through a major renovation to expand their restaurant seating and spruce up the building’s exterior.

“There’s a lot more businesses popping up – gift shops, wineries, new restaurants, horse-back riding,” Kunes said. “There’s more options. It’s not just come see the elk anymore.”

KECA does not market peak bugling season because it is already so popular, but the organization is actively working to increase visitation to elk country the other 10 months of the year, which businesses say has helped extend their tourism season.

“We’ve already had our busiest dinner ever,” Kunes said at a business gathering in mid-August, still a little stunned. Usually that kind of madness doesn’t arrive until peak bugling season, between Labor Day and Halloween. “We’ve never broken 400 meals from 4 to 9 (p.m.),” he explained. “We did 427 – in AUGUST. We were like Oh. My. Gosh.”

KECA is pushing to add one major monthly event each year until all 10 months of the offseason are filled. This year it was resurrecting the Elk Expo festival, which used to be a big annual event in the area but went on hiatus for the last four years. KECA co-sponsored the Expo with the area’s visitor bureau, Great Outdoors. More than 11,000 people from 14 states and two foreign countries attended.

Elkwood Arts
did “very well” at the Expo, said manager Jean Karpinski. A vocational facility providing employment and training to disabled adults, Elkwood Arts uses hardwoods from the Pennsylvania Wilds donated by area lumber mills to produce a variety of items – keychains, magnets, cutting boards, ornaments, clocks, furniture -- for retail and wholesale. Many of their products were on display at the Expo.

“It was our second-highest sales show and many orders came in from brochures that were handed out,” Karpinski said. “We’re very excited about this.” Their products also do well at the elk center gift shop, she said, boosting the organization’s monthly sales.

The Elk Country Visitor Center has made a huge impact on the area, said Peggy DeCarli, owner of the Medix Hotel, about 10 miles away from the center. “Education and appreciation of our area has quadrupled,” she said, adding that the facility has also helped to keep visitors in the area longer.

“In the past people would stop for lunch, drive up to Winslow Hill and leave,” DeCarli said. “Now they are stopping for lunch, visiting the viewing center for 2-3 hours and stopping back for a drink or dinner! Our area, Benezette Township, has become a destination where you visit for the day, rather than a couple of hours. We have also seen a definite change in who is visiting – more young families – and more retired folks, which thrills us especially the young families. We view that as repeat business for years to come as the children grow up and start their own families.”

DeCarli, a third-generation local, bought the Medix Hotel in 1999, after spending several years out of the area. When she returned, she said, “I was amazed at how many tourists visited. The first time I went up on Winslow Hill it was like trying to find a parking spot at a busy mall! … and it continues to grow every year.”

In the 15 years since, DeCarli’s staff has grown from 4 to 12, and she plans to expand again next spring to make more deck seating. “To be able to sit on the deck and watch elk standing in the creek, in my parking lot, and eating apples next door is an experience few people forget,” she said.

Across the street, the Elk Country Store has also expanded to include lodging, exterior renovations and new inventory. Not far off, the owners of Wapiti Woods Guest Cabins are working on an expansion to add more guest cabins.

"The growing volume of people coming to the area to enjoy the beauty of the elk, in their natural habitat, is overwhelming,” said John Bartholme from Medix Run Lodges. “We are increasing our lodging and expanding the facilities yearly … It is still discouraging to have to turn eager new-comers down (as I just did while writing this email), knowing all other facilities are also at capacity."

“It’s amazing the infrastructure that has gone in here,” said Doty McDowell, a Wildlife Conservation Officer for the Game Commission who has lived in the region for more than two decades and been assigned to the eastern half of Elk County, which includes Benezette, since 1998. “Winslow Hill was dirt when I got here,” McDowell said. “There was nothing. Now every cabin has a rent sign – and a nice one.”

Beyond the Valley
Mass market tourism may be easy to track with admission fees, but those methods are little help in geo-tourism destinations like the Pennsylvania Wilds. The point of coming is to experience the real place – its wonders, quirks and flaws. There are a million ways to enter and leave, making tracking difficult. Still, some data related to elk tourism does exist, helping paint a picture of the growth that is occurring.

The Clarion University Small Business Development Center, which serves elk country, said it has worked with several elk-tourism related businesses since 2005 that together have created 44 jobs, retained 12 jobs and saw a change in gross sales of more than a million dollars.

Loan officials at North Central Regional Planning & Development Commission, which also serves the region, report similar trends. Prior to 2006 tourism loans hardly made a blip in North Central’s loan portfolio. Since then the organization has packaged $2.3 million in tourism loans for businesses that have created 198 jobs.  

“As a result of PA Wilds in the past year we did more tourism projects than we did manufacturing,” said North Central’s Loan Program Director Pat Brennen.

And the impact isn’t contained to just Bennetts Valley where the new visitor center is located. The foot traffic spills into neighboring towns and counties, creating opportunities there.  

“It’s St Marys, it’s Ridgway, it’s DuBois,” said Dave Albert, who opened Wapiti Ridge Wine Cellars in DuBois, in Clearfield County, last year with his wife (‘wapiti’ is a Native American term for elk).

With more than 1,300 hotel rooms and many of them off I-80, lodging businesses in Clearfield County definitely see an impact from elk tourism, said Clearfield County Recreation Tourism Authority Director Holly Komonczi. “Some Clearfield County businesses have (also) joined forces with businesses in Benezette making their marketing efforts stronger,” she said.

Komonczi added that the attention given to elk tourism has strengthened other tourism assets in the region. “People coming to see elk are now looking for other activities to pursue while they are in the area,” she said.  

Customers who come to hunt, paddle, fish or just enjoy the quiet at Fork Ridge Ranch, a new business in Clearfield County, “all want to see the elk,” says ranch manager John Straitiff. He said sometimes he’ll load the group into a shuttle van and drive them to the visitor center in Benezette; other times they opt to drive themselves. “It’s a great day trip,” he said.

Several business owners in surrounding communities also said the public investment in elk tourism was a key factor in them starting their business.

Elk Mountain Winery
, which opened in St Marys in 2010, said it went with an elk theme because the new visitor center was about to open 20 miles away. Co-owner Kevin Wolfel said it was clear before the center opened it would be a major attraction. He hasn’t been disappointed. The winery has expanded twice so far, opening outlets in Benezette and Benton, Pa. Wolfel said in an interview this spring he’s had visitors from all 50 states and 14 countries so far. They leave straight pins on a map on his winery wall. “We are shipping wine to quite a few people that were here once just to see the elk, now they are hooked on our products,” he said. “It just goes to show you the power of tourism.”

Mark and Evelyn Keiter told a similar story about Misty Pines, a cabin rental they started in neighboring Cameron County a few years ago after Mark got laid off from a good job as a foreman in a steel mill in southeastern PA.

“After visiting relatives in the area, seeing the elk for ourselves and reading the Fermata report we decided this was the area we wanted to live in,” Evelyn Keiter explained recently by email. “We knew we wanted to be in the hospitality business and saw that there was a need for it. … We pulled up stakes, sold our home and business and moved to Cameron County to escape the rat race ... This was a scary undertaking but we were ready for a big change.”

The Keiters bought 40 acres with a scenic view and transformed an abandoned house on the property into two rental suites complete with private entrances, hardwood flooring and new appliances.

“With a lot of hard work, vision and hope, we turned that abandoned house into something special,” Keiter said. “As of September 5th we will have been open for five years, I almost can't believe it. The time has gone so quickly and we have met so many nice people.

“Often local people will ask us "’Why did you move here?’” Keiter said. “The one word answer would be ELK. Maybe if someone has never lived anywhere else they don't appreciate the beauty and excitement that's right outside their back door here in the PA Wilds but we are loving it. The possibility of seeing an elk or bear in our everyday travels does not grow old. Knowing that we are sharing our home with the majestic elk puts the "wild" in PA Wilds for us. We love being able to provide a quality place for people to stay while they are experiencing a glimpse of where we get to live every day. … There are so many other things to do and see in the area but the elk are the number one draw.”

Ridgway, about an hour northwest from Benezette, has felt the economic impact of elk tourism as well, according to several businesses and organizations there.

Elk County Council on the Arts Executive Director Abbi Peters said she’s seen a bump in visitation to the ECCOTA Gallery in downtown. Elk tourists are easy to spot because they’re usually excited to talk about their experiences, she said.

“We’ve found that many of the visitors have camps in the area and this may be their first time in Ridgway because up until that point they weren’t aware of what the surrounding area had to offer,” Peters said.   

With more elk tourists has come more elk-related artwork, too. “I have seen a definite increase,” Peters said. “When Paul Staniszweski started with the gallery his photography focused on floral macro shots, now he shoots primarily elk and he has developed a relationship at the Visitor’s Center that allows him to get very close and personal with the elk. We are working on a photography class this fall with Paul centered around photographing elk. Other artists have added elk, or PA Wilds-related themes to their work. And during the fall we do lean toward elk themed windows to help draw in tourists in the area for elk/leaf viewing.”

Country Squirrel Outfitters
, which opened in 2010 a few blocks away from the gallery, said it gets elk traffic, too. “We get questions all the time about where to go to see elk, what time of day, what time of year, asking for directions to Benezette, etc.,” said co-owner Steve Putt. “Efforts that entities like PA Wilds, Elk Country Visitors Center, DCNR, Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau, etc. have put forth to help promote elk viewing, and eco-tourism in general, has certainly had a huge positive impact on Ridgway, our area and our business. Especially in the fall (elk rut season) when the river activities have died down and our recreational business would otherwise be limited.”

Further north, in Wilcox, Mike Allegretto, owner of the Tannery House, another new restaurant, said visitors to Elk Country Visitor Center make up a good number of his customers as well. “A lot of people who stop in here have either been there or are going there,” he said. “Now there’s the Sky Walk at Kinzua Bridge State Park, too, so that’s another attraction.”

More than one industrial company in Elk County has remarked that the visitor center is a useful asset to them, too – a place they can take important out-of-town clients for the day for a unique and memorable experience. “We didn’t realize what a benefit that would be,” said Brad Clinton, who works for Tom Bob Outdoors, a division of Continuous Metal Technology, a powdered metals manufacturer in Ridgway.

Dave Morris, President of the PA Wilds Tourism Marketing Corporation and head of the Great Outdoors Visitor Bureau, said elk tourism has continued to grow and impact the regional economy as an income generator. “New travel support businesses have come online, recognition of the area as a travel destination has increased and travel professionals including group tour operators, travel writers and travel planners have integrated elk country into their list of recommendations.”

“The economic impact of the Elk County Visitor Center has far exceeded our wildest dreams,” said Scott Dunkelberger, director of the Center for Business Financing for the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, a key partner in the effort to grow nature tourism in the Pennsylvania Wilds. DCED has helped fund many of the small business start-ups and expansions in the region through its low-interest loan programs.

“When the decision was made to financially support the construction of the Elk Country Visitor Center, the Commonwealth hoped it would be a world-class education facility and a magnet that would attract tourists whose spending would improve the local economy,” Dunkelberger said. “It has proven to be both.”

“This is a great example of real grass roots economic development,” he said. “The money spent in the area to purchase products and services from the local artisans, eateries, and wineries etc. is truly improving the economic base of the local economy. There are former corporate professionals who have returned to the area after successful careers with national companies as well as lifelong residents who have been able to quit their 9-5 jobs to run very successful businesses in the region surrounding the visitor center.

“I am so impressed by the business acumen and tenacity of the local entrepreneurs who are seizing the opportunities presented by the influx of visitors … These entrepreneurs are working together on advertising, promotions, and special events to insure that visitors have a positive and memorable experience. It has been such a great joy for me working with these people and watching them become so successful.”

The Next 100 Years
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the reintroduction of elk into Pennsylvania. Celebratory banners hang throughout Bennetts Valley, and the Game Commission is hosting a variety of activities, including guided mountain bike trips through surrounding state game and forest lands.

McDowell, the wildlife conservation officer, said about 950 elk live in Pennsylvania today. “As tourism has grown so has our elk population,” he said. “They are doing extremely well. Other than elk in and around Benezette, there’s very little impact of the elk in the back country.”

The public’s interest in the elk creates many opportunities, including some for the Game Commission, McDowell said. About 80 percent of the people who live in the Commonwealth are non-hunters, he explained, and the elk provide an avenue for the Game Commission to interact with them. “To me it’s a unique opportunity for the PA Game Commission to have an impact on the people about wildlife,” he said. “Nowhere else in the state can a resource officer have this kind of interaction.”

DCNR’s PA Wilds Director Meredith Hill said the economic growth around the center is “impressive and gratifying” and demonstrates well the kind of strategic investments and partnerships DCNR has championed to grow nature tourism in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Now that key destination facilities like the visitor center are in place, Hill said, a next step is to focus on linking the region’s assets together “and packaging them so they are accessible and attractive to today’s traveler. And to work with local leaders to think long-term with an eye toward sustainability on issues like protecting community character as the region grows.”

Cogan said he’s up for the challenges.

“This is some of the most beautiful wilderness in the whole state – country – and thousands of people are coming here to experience it,” he said. “That is very gratifying to me. They come to appreciate what we have and to help conserve it – that’s pretty awesome.”

TATABOLINE ENOS travels the Pennsylvania Wilds working with small business owners, entrepreneurs and residents who are helping grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy. She lives in a small farming town in the northwest corner of the PA Wilds with her husband and two young sons. For more information on starting a business in the PA Wilds, visit To explore the region, check out