2019 Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds Award Winners Announced

For Immediate Release

September 25, 2019

2019 Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds Award Winners Announced

Winners to be recognized at November 7 PA Wilds Annual Dinner & Awards in DuBois

champion awardsEach year, the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. (PA Wilds Center) recognizes outstanding individuals, organizations, programs, communities and places that exemplify the great work being done across the region to develop nature tourism and the outdoor recreation economy in a way that creates jobs, diversifies local economies, inspires stewardship and improves quality of life.

Hosted by the PA Wilds Center in coordination with the PA Wilds Planning Team, the PA Wilds Annual Dinner & Awards is a premier annual networking opportunity in the Pennsylvania Wilds. More than 250 businesses and community leaders from across the region, along with state partners and officials from Harrisburg, gather to celebrate the Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds award winners during the PA Wilds Annual Dinner & Awards. This year’s dinner is slated for Thursday, November 7 at the DuBois Country Club, Clearfield County.

The theme of this year’s events is “The PA Wilds: A Rural Development Hub,” which will focus on an innovative approach to community and economic development in rural America and uplift the many people involved in such work.

“So many people and organizations contribute to the success of the PA Wilds, and it is our great pleasure to honor champions each year at this event,” said Ta Enos, founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center. “These winners are making a powerful impact in their communities and within our regional landscape. The PA Wilds Annual Dinner & Awards is a great occasion to celebrate these leaders and honor their accomplishments!”

The 2019 Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds include:

Outstanding Leader (Individual) Award Winner: Scott Dunkelberger

Scott Dunkelberger, executive director of the Commonwealth Financing Authority and Senior Advisor to the Secretary at the PA Dept. of Community and Economic Development, will receive the Outstanding Leader Award for his role in helping to advance the Pennsylvania Wilds cause while at DCED, particularly the small business development components. Scott has put his experience to work for people and organizations across the Pennsylvania Wilds, including the PA Wilds Center. He helped build awareness about the Wilds work inside his agency over many different administrations, supported new initiatives designed to help the effort grow, mentored PA Wilds Center leadership, and has helped countless businesses in the region connect to resources, networks and strategies to help them grow. Scott has also been a huge champion of the Elk Country Visitor Center, a star asset in the Pennsylvania Wilds, where he was an early board member of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance (KECA) and was just elected Board Chairman.

Outstanding Leader (Organization) Award Winner: West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund

West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund (WPPSEF) is the deserving winner of this year’s Outstanding Leader Award for an Organization. WPPSEF has done an incredible job of finding passionate projects in the Wilds, inviting stakeholders to think big about how sustainable energy fits into them, and then investing in those ideas. WPPSEF has gone beyond just being an investor or funder of projects in the Pennsylvania Wilds; they are a strategic partner helping PA Wilds Center find models to tackle pressing issues in rural PA. WPPSEF invested more than $150,000 to support the development of the Center’s PA Wilds Media Lab, a business accelerator space in uptown Kane, which will also serve as an interpretive model for energy-efficient Main Street revitalization. WPPSEF has teamed up with PA Wilds Center in the past, helping it create marketing materials to better tell the story of several high-performance conservation visitor facilities that have come online in the Pennsylvania Wilds. WPPSEF has also invested in similar projects in the Wilds’ communities, from the recycling center in Elk County to the outdoor classroom at the Elk Country Visitor Center.

Great Places Award Winner: The Depot at Doolittle’s – DuBois, Clearfield County

The Depot at Doolittle’s, developed by Dr. Jeff Rice, has received the Great Places Award due to the innovative asset development and promotion that have worked together to create a unique tourism destination within the Pennsylvania Wilds. The Depot at Doolittle’s offers creative ventures to draw visitors from all over the country, including five restaurants — four housed in train railcars — that feature fine or regular dining, a brewery, and brick oven pizza; railcars that have been converted into beautiful B&Bs; and, new this year, Dr. Rice created a large animatronic dinosaur exhibit, possibly the largest in Pennsylvania.  Over 1,500 visitors walked through that exhibit during the first weekend of operation. The Depot at Doolittle’s is an affordable, high-value tourism destination that features heritage education, environmental stewardship and conservation, youth programming, and more!

Conservation Stewardship (Individual) Award Winner: Patrick Domico – Clearfield County

Patrick Domico will receive the Individual Conservation Stewardship Award for his efforts to develop and sustain the Squirrel Tails for Trout organization. Domico developed the non-profit years ago to improve recreation opportunities and fish stocking so that the local community and visitors can enjoy fishing in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Domico continues to gain support from many businesses and community members, including sponsorships and grants from area businesses. Domico has also developed and planned many fishing derbies for children of all ages on the Susquehanna River and at Parker Dam State Park, including the Kid’s Fishing Derby which celebrated its 44th year in April. Domico’s conservation impact includes commitment to conservation efforts to improve outdoor recreation and state parks, youth conservation, and wildlife, among others.

Conservation Stewardship (Organization) Award Winner: Clinton County CleanScapes – Clinton and Lycoming Counties

Clinton County CleanScapes, known locally as CleanScapes, will be honored with the Organization Conservation Stewardship Award for its ongoing commitment to mobilizing areas to restore public landscapes and waterways for the past two decades. Serving both Clinton and Lycoming counties, the mission of CleanScapes, a nonprofit organization and Keep PA Beautiful affiliate, is imperative to the Pennsylvania Wilds core value of maintaining natural areas for public access to promote nature-based tourism. Holding four or more events each year, the group locates and removes tons of trash from remote forests, trails, rivers and streams.  The organization has, since 2000, completed more than 124 cleanup events, trained over 4,569 volunteers that removed more than 2,432,460 pounds of trash, 13,131 tires and 49,245 pounds of scrap metal from the natural environment.

Great Design Award Winner: Alicia Dankesreiter of Bradford Regional Airport – McKean County

Alicia Dankesreiter and the Bradford Regional Airport are being honored with the Great Design Award. When planning the revitalization of the Bradford Regional Airport, Alicia and her advisory team recognized the importance of utilizing the PA Wilds Design Guide for Community Character Stewardship from the very beginning to position the airport as the gateway to the Pennsylvania Wilds. Alicia and her team chose a local design firm in the Wilds Cooperative to redesign the airport’s logo to tie into the PA Wilds brand, and also worked with PA Wilds Center to lay the groundwork to establish a PA Wilds retail and branding presence in the airport’s newly-designed terminal to further support the PA Wilds Center’s mission of supporting regional entrepreneurs, with a goal of attracting new customers to the airport for dining and shopping experiences. Alicia’s use of creative partnerships and planning is creating a strong sense of place and community pride. The airport’s use of the Design Guide in its renovation renderings is exciting and a model to be followed — and one that will no doubt win it even more fans once construction is complete.

Member of the Year Award Winner: Denny Puko

Denny Puko, a longtime state planner for the Department of Community and Economic Development, earned the Member of the Year award from the PA Wilds Planning Team. Puko crafted the ground-breaking Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement (ICA) that in 2006 brought the region’s 12 county governments and many nonprofits together to collaborate on the Wilds work, forming the PA Wilds Planning Team. The ICA – the largest geographically of its kind in the Commonwealth – is still in effect today; the Planning Team meets every other month in a rotating location around the region and its work helps shape and guide the Center’s programs and services for communities. Puko is an active and revered member of the Team, so much so that when he recently announced his retirement from DCED, the Team asked him to stay on as a partner. He accepted. “I can’t say enough how this role has been the most rewarding and fulfilling aspect of my work,” he told the Planning Team. “I feel very personally connected to the PA Wilds.”

Artisan of the Year Award Winner: Rich Valley Apiary – Cameron County

The Magaro family at Rich Valley Apiary will be honored with the Artisan of the Year Award. Rich Valley Apiary, a juried artisan member of the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania, a network of 300 place-based businesses and artisans across the Pennsylvania Wilds, produces honey-based products including soap, lotions, beard products, candles, pet care items, and cleaning products. What began as a beekeeping hobby soon turned into a family-operated business. The Magaros recently purchased a building in Emporium to expand, and they continue to offer one-of-a-kind products, some of which are featured at the PA Wilds Conservation Shop at Kinzua Bridge State Park. They’ve been featured in several statewide publications. As noted in their award nomination, “The enthusiasm for beekeeping and growing entrepreneurship in their hometown of Emporium is contagious.”

Business of the Year Award Winner: Quiet Oaks Campground – Clinton and Potter Counties

Quiet Oaks Campground will be honored with the Business of the Year Award for their investments and growth in their property serving travelers in both Clinton and Potter Counties as well as their commitment to leveraging the Pennsylvania Wilds as part of the overall experience. Owners Dave and Carla Flack purchased the 13-site campground in 1985, with Dave’s parents, to give people a camping option that allowed pets. In 1998, when Dave retired from the Air Force, the couple moved back to the area and took over the business full-time. Since then, they’ve added about 25 campsites and six cabins. This year, they embarked on a project to add up to 40 more campsites, an investment of about $100,000. In addition to offering year-round camping, Quiet Oaks is host to several regional and national events that generate a tremendous amount of visitor/tourism traffic and, importantly, provide a platform for many local nonprofits to raise needed funds. Just one of those events, The Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival – a three-day event at the campground in June, brings in more than 2,000 people annually and is a benefit for the Lupus Foundation.

Inspiring Youth Award Winner: Jamie Caskey & St. Marys Area H.S. Ecology Club – Elk County

Mrs. Jamie Caskey is the 2019 recipient of the Inspiring Youth Award for her dedication, work and commitment as advisor of the St. Marys Area High School Ecology Club. Under Mrs. Caskey, the Ecology Club works tirelessly in assisting with environmental activities in Elk County. Each year the club does at least one river cleanup; they’ve planted native pollinator gardens, conducted litter pick-ups, built and installed bluebird boxes, and more! As stated in the nomination, “The student’s that are in the club really work hard, and put their hearts into everything they do. They are a great group of kids to work with” and Mrs. Caskey’s influence is a big part of that.

Event of the Year Award Winner: Bellefonte Under the Lights – Centre County

Bellefonte Under the Lights will receive the Event of the Year Award for its positive social and economic impact on the region. Meant to highlight some of the underutilized assets in Bellefonte, Bellefonte Under the Lights was developed as a community dinner alongside the Spring Creek waterfront, under strands of bistro lights. The dinner brought together neighborhoods in a way that was unexpected. Selling out in under two hours in its first year, the dinner brought together residents and tourists alike; and through the event, Downtown Bellefonte Inc., the community’s Main Street program, was able to put more than $10,000 back into the downtown economy.  In its second year, the event again sold out quickly. Organizers look to offer Bellefonte Under the Lights as an annual event to help stimulate the local economy and capitalize on unique community assets.

Best Brand Ambassador Award Winner: Tracy Smith – McKean County

Tracy Smith of Sixty Foot Films will be honored with the Best Brand Ambassador Award for his outstanding work to promote and develop the Pennsylvania Wilds brand through visual storytelling and place name recognition. Sixty Foot Films is a growing small business that brings Hollywood-level cinematography, storytelling and photography to the Pennsylvania Wilds, and helps to elevate pride of place, business development and tourism through visual storytelling. Owner/operator Tracy Smith, an active juried member of the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania, has been a valuable partner to the PA Wilds Center since 2017, contributing countless volunteer hours and technical advice, and delivering high quality “Made in the PA Wilds” services on important contracted projects. He excels at developing regional creative partnerships, and has helped generate press for the PA Wilds brand and other WCO members. His creative work elevates the Pennsylvania Wilds region, local business and brand by presenting local and regional subjects in a way that challenges the national narrative and stereotype on “rural America.”

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“The PA Wilds Center Board of Directors was truly inspired by the nominations this year, which touched on so many projects and initiatives across the region,” Enos said. “These ‘champions’ demonstrate pride in and commitment to our region, and ultimately make our communities better because of their efforts. With so many deserving nominees, selection was difficult. However, for those who nominated a contender that did not win this year, we encourage you to submit again next year!”

The 2019 PA Wilds Annual Dinner & Awards will be held Thursday, November 7, 2019 at the DuBois Country Club, 10 Lakeside Ave, DuBois, PA 15801. The event will open at 3:00 PM with networking opportunities, and the program will begin at 5:00 PM

Katharine Ferguson, Associate Director of the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (CSG) and Director of CSG’s Regional and Rural Development Initiatives, will keynote the event and report on innovative community and economic development models in rural America. The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC., released a research brief in early 2019 on Rural Development Hubs. The brief presented topline findings from interviews with 40 field-leading Rural Development Hubs in the United States.

According to the report, “[Rural Development] Hubs are primary players advancing a fresh approach to community and economic development…. Hubs focus on all the critical ingredients in a region’s system that either advance or impede prosperity — the integrated range of social, economic, health and environmental conditions needed for people and places to thrive.”

Hosted by the PA Wilds Center in coordination with the PA Wilds Planning Team, the PA Wilds Annual Dinner & Awards is the premier annual networking opportunity in the Pennsylvania Wilds. More than 250 state and regional representatives, business and community leaders and citizens come together to talk about how nature and heritage tourism efforts are positively impacting area communities and to honor the Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds award winners.

Event registration is now open at https://www.pawildscenter.org/awards-dinner/registration.

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