KERSEY – Ten individuals, businesses and organizations were recently named as 2014 Champions of the PA Wilds for their work in conservation and sustainable tourism development.
More than 130 business and community leaders from across the Pennsylvania Wilds gathered Thursday at the Red Fern in Kersey to get an update on the state and local efforts to grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy, and to honor the award winners.
The PA Wilds Partnership Summit annual dinner and awards banquet, now in its seventh year, is hosted by the PA Wilds Planning Team, a group comprised of planners from the region’s 12 county governments and other local, state and federal stakeholders from the public and private sectors.
"The PA Wilds Planning Team is proud to recognize the incredible work being done by so many local residents, businesses and organizations to grow our region’s nature and heritage tourism industry,” said PA Wilds Planning Team Chair Dan Glotz.
Among the winners were Abbi Peters, executive director of the Elk County Council on the Arts for the Outstanding Leader Award and Country Squirrel Outfitters, LLC of Ridgway for Business of the Year.
Collins Pine Company-Kane Hardwoods Division received the Conservation Stewardship Organization Award. The company is one of the largest private landowners in the PA Wilds Region with over 115,000 acres of timberland. There are over 100 employees at their Kane Hardwood Sawmill.
All of the land is open to public use for camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding or any other non-motorized outdoor recreation use. Much of the land has been in company ownership since the 1960s and some ownership dates back to the founding of the company in 1855.
The land has been certified by the internationally acclaimed Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainably managed forests since 1995-- the first in PA.
The Artisan of the Year Award was presented to Laughing Owl Press of Kane which was started in 2010 by Joe and Andrea Lanich after they moved back to the area.
Laughing Owl Press has also been a key partner in the expansion of the Proudly Made in the Pennsylvania Wilds brand, and they have many popular products for sale on the artisan trail.
The Lanich's are active members of the PA Wilds Artisan Trail and Andrea participated on the Artisan Trail's team at the PA Wilds Workshop: Connecting Nature, Economy and Community Character. Joe is currently a member of the Artisan Trail Advisory Committee, providing insight and leadership to the future of the Artisan Trail.
Laughing Owl press is featured in the PA Wilds Youth Entrepreneurship video, and produces the letterpress map of the region that is distributed to students who participate in the program, which is well received by participants.
The Cameron County Conservation District won the Inspiring Youth Award by developing a strong partnership with the school district and other youth and nature based clubs to help educate kids about the wonders of nature and how to protect it for future generations.
The list of programs offered is extensive including: Envirothon, My Growing Tree, Water Quality Education, Poster Contests, Wild About Nature Field Day, Growing Up Wild, Exploring Nature with Young Children, Outdoor Club, Enviroscape, and many others. Through these programs, they reach hundreds of youth each year including every fourth, fifth and sixth grade student in the district.
The Event of the Year Award was presented to the Cameron County Canoe and Kayak Classic, a 12-mile long race which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
This event has grown from a small local event into a large race that attracts over 100 paddlers from across the United States. The event opens participant's eyes to the natural assets of Cameron County and is heavily sponsored by local businesses. It also gives back by partnering with local companies to design and produce the T-shirts and unique wooden paddles that are highly coveted by participants. The event also engages the Cameron County Outdoor Youth Organization, Mountaineer Search and Rescue, Cameron County Emergency Services, and others to scout the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning River for hazards, conduct a river clean-up, and act as spotters and rescuers in the event of an emergency.
The Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park/Park Office receive the Great Place Award. The office acts as a starting point for PA Wilds visitors for scores of outdoor activities and wildlife watching opportunities. Containing over 9,300 square feet of exhibit, retail, office and gallery space, the center serves as a portal to the region.
Over the past 10 years, the Commonwealth has made major investments within the PA Wilds region, one of the most recent being the six million dollar Wildlife Center and Park Office at Sinnemahoning State Park.
Since its opening in October 2011, the Wildlife Center has attracted over 65,000 visitors. Sinnemahoning State Park has always been a destination park because of its location and the wildness and tranquility that is offered in the First Fork Valley, and the new Wildlife Center has been a great addition to this already great park.
Blossburg Borough in Tioga County won the Great Design Award for the development of a new Comprehensive Plan for their community in response to oil and gas development and other factors impacting them. This project has already resulted in activities that will increase employment, create additional recreational opportunities and further the stewardship of natural resources.
This plan focuses on five priority projects including: creating a park and recreation master plan, establishing a capital improvement program, forming a partnership with the school district, developing and implementing a community communication program, and launching a community branding and promotion program. It also incorporates the PA Wilds Design Guide, the Oil and Gas Supplement for the Design Guide, and the Center for Sustainable Shale Development's Performance Standards.
Former McKean County Planning Director Debbie Lunden was named the Member of the Year Award for her vital part of the PA Wilds since the Planning Team was established in 2005. After her retirement in 2014, she accepted a nomination to continue serving on the planning team as a partner so she could remain actively involved.
During her tenure on the team, Lunden served as a member of the Design Guide Development Committee. The PA Wilds Design Guide is one of the planning team's most profound projects, and has received state and national recognition. She was also involved with the PA Wilds Planning Study, PA Wilds Transportation and Byways Committee, served as the Planning Team's Secretary, and as a member of the PA Wilds Planning Team Executive Committee.
Lunden has also been involved in numerous other organizations and committees focused on planning and economic development, and she has been instrumental in educating these groups on the importance of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Eric Rensel won the Conservation Stewardship Individual Award in part due to his creation of two Geocaching Trails which feature the region's conservation heritage and the work of the CCC. These trails allow visitors to follow in the footsteps of early conservationists so they can see the work that has been done and be inspired to continue the work that was started so long ago.
Rensel is a conservationist and member of the DCNR Pennsylvania Wilds Recreation Team.