There were multiple area winners this year in the 2012 Champion of the Pennsylvania Wilds Awards.
The initiative recognizes "outstanding efforts in sustainable tourism development in the Pennsylvania Wilds."
"The Pa. Wilds planning team has an annual event that we host that brings our state officials in and we try to update them on the activities we've undertaken in the previous year and try to explain a bit where we're going in the future," said Matt Quesenberry, director of Elk County's planning department. "At this particular event, we also hand out 'Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds' awards. It's a way to recognize accomplishments that particular individuals have had and businesses as well."
Business of the Year went to the Benezette Hotel, operated by proprietors Brian Kunes and Matt Castle. The business is located just a stone's throw away from the Elk Country Visitor Center.
The Conservation Stewardship Award went to Ken Rowe, president of the Bennett Branch Watershed Association. The Bennett Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek and its tributaries, heavily polluted by abandoned mining operations, were estimated to contribute approximately 14 percent of the acid mine drainage pollution shown to be impacting the fragile Chesapeake Bay. This has been an issue since the 1930s, when deep mining reportedly destroyed the ecological health of the Bennett Branch.