Tioga County: Winding Roads & Plenty of Possibilities
Traveling through the Pine Creek Valley in North-Central Pennsylvania, you find that winding roads give way to many possibilities. Beauty abounds and nature calls, especially when traveling Route 287 to Wellsboro, a borough located in the northeastern corner of the region known as the Pennsylvania Wilds.
This was my first trip as the newest hire at the Pennsylvania Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. – and a true orientation at that. As the outreach specialist for the eastern region of the Pennsylvania Wilds, I will be working with folks to bring the vast benefits of the Pennsylvania Wilds brand to their establishments and communities, be they large or small! The experience provided a perfect opportunity to witness a handful of the breathtaking natural landscapes, unique boutiques, charming bed and breakfast inns, and fine dining and craft-brewery establishments that make the region as special as it is. This, I know as a Pennsylvania Wilds native, is replicated throughout the 12.5-county region.
Meeting “the team” – PA Wilds Center Executive Director Ta Enos, Managing Director Abbi Peters and Communications Director Kristin Marconi, as well as DCNR PA Wilds Program Manager Meredith Hill – in person for the first time was a great experience. Our trip was packed with visits to the Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, natural assets and local establishments.
We visited the Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce, where we met with Executive Director Julie VanNess and discussed the various chamber events that promote the region (such as the annual Laurel Festival). We also drove out to the Tioga County Visitors Bureau, where we were given a tour by Internal Operations Manager Colleen Hanson and were thrilled to see one of the original, signed copies of the PA Wilds Declaration of Principles.
From there, we embarked on our next stops – visits to some of the region’s natural assets, including the “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.” Meredith took us to Leonard Harrison State Park, where we saw one of the most popular overlooks of the Pine Creek Gorge. She took us to the depths of the gorge to see the Pine Creek Rail-Trail up-close. We also had the opportunity to view the valley from the eastern side of the gorge, from Colton Point – a more primitive overlook and camping area. The recreational possibilities were everywhere: from hiking trails for folks of all skill levels and camping destinations, to kayaking and biking opportunities, fishing locations and more.
As we explored the surroundings, we discussed a big part of what makes the region so special – giving physicality to the abstract history of what led to the Pennsylvania Wilds as something more than a place, but rather, a movement. Once barren due to timbering, the trees that surround Pine Creek Valley are standing tall only 100 years later. No small feat, it took concerted efforts by conservation groups and state programs to bring back the wilderness enveloping the Pennsylvania Wilds.
As communities fought to preserve forests and woodlands, they began to find ways to thrive in other ways too. Tourism, often based on natural resources and local heritage, would prove to be beneficial to many; however, the rural communities were not prepared for the surge in visitors. This is what led to the movement to bolster the villages, boroughs, towns and cities that create stopping points throughout the Wilds region. This is how the Pennsylvania Wilds as a movement – and brand – was born. I’m proud to be a part of that, and to be a resident of a region with so much to offer.
In addition to the natural assets we visited on the trip, our group spent time at various businesses in the Wellsboro area. These Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania members provide goods and services in the region that keep visitors coming back for more.
We met with Tioga County Planning Director Kerry Miller at The Native Bagel, where we were greeted with the calm-yet-bustling afternoon crowd at the popular eatery. Providing more than bagels, the menu also features “Native Sandwiches” named after local spots, like “The Green” or “Tioga Country Club,” giving it an even more special, home-made feel. As it should; bagels are prepared fresh and on-site each morning.
The PA Wilds Center team rested at La Belle Auberge Bed & Breakfast, a beautifully-decorated residence just two blocks from The Green (and The Native Bagel)! My first experience at a B&B, it was quite divine. French-themed rooms with private bathrooms, specials on massages, and a delicious breakfast to prepare you for your next adventure. Speaking with innkeepers Jesse and Laura Lee Robinson, we learned about how Laura Lee’s grandmother, Nelle Rounsaville, once owned the inn, as well as a few others in the area, the famous Wellsboro Diner, and an eatery near Mansfield. We also learned how the couple came to own the La Belle Auberge property, and discussed their other entrepreneurial endeavor: Emerge Healing Arts & Spa. Located about two blocks away off Central Avenue, the spa features a Boutique & Gallery filled with Laura Lee’s organic skincare line and ceramic wares, as well as jewelry, fine art and sculpture, wearables and more made by local artisans and ranging in price. (I think we all wound up finding something fun to take home!)
For dinner, we dined at Wellsboro House – where we each enjoyed delicious entrees and some of the finest Central-Pennsylvania-made brews. Prepared to perfection, the food was mouthwatering, and the service was splendid. We also received a tour of the brewing facility from owner Chris Kozuhowski. It was such a great experience seeing how this Pennsylvania Wilds Host Site was truly an example of economic turnaround: the establishment itself located in a building once destined for demolition and the brewery situated in a former train depot across the road. Now, both were in full-functioning use, with talented staff employed by an individual from the Philadelphia area, who after 9/11 saw the sweeter side to the simpler life and wanted to settle in Tioga County.
Another highlight of the trip to Tioga County was our visit to Highland Chocolates, an enterprise owned and operated by Partners in Progress that creates tasty treats while serving a deeper mission. Given a tour of the facility, we learned about how the nonprofit organization employs individuals with disabilities, helping them to hone their skills and produce a fine line of chocolates for distribution around the state and beyond. The company’s famous Pretzel Bark utilizes both Pennsylvania-made chocolate and pretzels.
This trip to beautiful Tioga County is just one example of how the winding roads of the Pennsylvania Wilds connect you to limitless possibilities. Like the concerted efforts to bring back the forests, these entrepreneurs’ dedication to investing in the rural region and uplifting the unique heritage, culture and natural assets is a testament to the power of the Pennsylvania Wilds.