New ARC report on tourism trends and strategies spotlights PA Wilds case studies
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), in partnership with the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Collective Impact, recently released a report that looks at the history of tourism in Appalachia and provides recommendations for communities and tourism professionals looking to employ it as an economic strategy. The report, Extending Our Welcome: Trends and Strategies for Tourism in Appalachia, points to two case studies from the Pennsylvania Wilds (PA Wilds), including examples from both the public and private sectors.
“In the PA Wilds, there has been a coordinated effort for nearly two decades by local, state and federal partners from both the public and private sectors to grow nature and heritage tourism in our rural 13-county region under the PA Wilds brand as a means to help diversify local economies, create jobs, inspire stewardship and improve quality of life,” says Ta Enos, Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center, the nonprofit that helps coordinate the regional strategy in partnership with PA DCNR, PA DCED, county governments and many local nonprofits and businesses. “This collaborative and multifaceted effort to grow the region’s outdoor rec industry has included investments over many years in small business development, community character stewardship, regional branding and marketing, and recreation infrastructure upgrades.
“Results to date include a record-breaking $1.8 billion spent regionally by travelers in 2018 and every county seeing double-digit growth in visitor spending over the last decade. We’re incredibly proud to see that this regional approach is gaining recognition by being highlighted as a success story and a model in reports like ARC’s Extending Our Welcome. Although the research for this report was conducted prior to COVID-19, many of the findings remain relevant and useful for tourism professionals in our region’s communities for the years ahead.”
The report provides insights on trends and strategies in Appalachia’s travel industry based on takeaways gleaned from surveying more than 500 visitors and more than 700 tourism stakeholders. Pointing to the $60 billion industry today in the 420 counties that make up Appalachia, the report looks at tourism and travel, as well as impacts, changes and limitations. It also notes the opportunities and challenges that confront the industry within Appalachia. The two examples included in the ARC report from the PA Wilds include Straub Brewery, a legacy brand rooted in the Wilds city of Saint Marys, and the connections between Cherry Springs State Park, literally a star natural attraction for regional visitors, and the nearby Wilds gateway community of Coudersport.
“These are two great case studies from the PA Wilds as both offer place-based experiences and embrace our region’s rich cultural history and rural traditions,” said Abbi Peters, EVP of Operations at the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. (PA Wilds Center), the nonprofit tasked with coordinating the regional PA Wilds strategy. “Within our own regional marketing efforts, we’ve identified six headliner experiences and surrounding sub-regions, or landscapes, to help orient and excite visitors to the rural PA Wilds. The starry night skies of Cherry Springs helped inspire the name of the Dark Skies landscape, and Straub Brewery has embraced its location within one of the largest cities in the Elk Country landscape.”
The ARC report looks to Saint Marys, Straub Brewery and PA Wilds as a case study for “building a culture of tourism.” Reflecting on Straub’s “Fiercely IndependentTM” motto, the report notes how the private company’s efforts to support their market region led to collaborations with the PA Wilds. “In 2015, Straub Brewery began to collaborate with PA Wilds to better align themselves with tourism in the region, while also expanding their market.” With Saint Marys being in Elk County and part of the Elk Country landscape of PA Wilds, more and more tourists are finding their way for a free tour of the nearly 150 year old family owned and operated Brewery and a stop at the Brewery’s Visitor Center & Tap Room during their trips to see the elk herds. The PA Wilds commitment to regional business and artisans was appealing to Straub, and very much kept with the spirit of Straub’s “Fiercely IndependentTM” ethic.
Bill Brock, CEO of Straub Brewery, has said, “The PA Wilds has built a recognizable and distinctive region, offering meaningful applications to both the private and public sectors; and a powerful identity to residents and communities. For Straub Brewery, the PA Wilds is now essential to our identity. Because of the initiative, parochialism is dissipating, and Straub can ‘identify’ with the larger region, vastly expanding our ‘home-market.’ Externally, the increasing market-awareness of the region gives the Brewery a recognizable ‘home’ that directly links with the positive increasing awareness of the PA Wilds. Straub fully integrated the themes of the PA Wilds into the rebranding of its craft beer; generating a sense of pride within the region and new sales opportunities throughout Pennsylvania – the rebranding was very successful. The PA Wilds has delivered and the region is fortunate for its leadership and their commitment.”
Cherry Springs State Park was one of the first parks in the nation to earn recognition from the International Dark Skies Association as a Dark Sky Park in 2000. Its popularity has grown alongside the awareness of the Pennsylvania Wilds as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts, and Coudersport is the largest nearby community serving this incredible natural asset. Coudersport and Cherry Springs offer a case study for “promoting and protecting natural assets” in the ARC report.
The report notes, “Just over 20 years ago, park staff noted the first astronomer at the park, a visitor who had found the park while searching satellite images for dark places. Word soon got out, and lone visitors soon turned into small groups, and then larger groups after that. Today, on a clear night, it is not unusual to find up to a hundred amateur astronomers camped at the park…. Coudersport was quick to adapt the park’s dark sky theme and develop its tourism around it. Their embrace of dark sky tourism has helped launch several small businesses and related local products.”
The Dark Skies is now an entire landscape promoted on the regional visitor site pawilds.com, managed by the PA Wilds Center and designed to orient and excite travelers to the unique experiences in the region. ARC has been a core partner and investor in the PA Wilds strategy, helping to reboot regional marketing and outreach efforts in 2017 with a POWER grant to the PA Wilds Center.
Extending Our Welcome represents the second time the PA Wilds effort has been highlighted by ARC in a report. In 2019, ARC released Strengthening Economic Resilience in Appalachia which featured 10 case studies of economic resilience in Appalachia. McKean County in the PA Wilds was featured because of its success in leveraging the coordinated Pennsylvania Wilds effort. Other recent studies the region has been highlighted in include The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Rural Economic Development Toolkit, the National Governors Association Report “Rural Prosperity through the Arts & Creative Sector, ” and PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (DCNR) “Pennsylvania Conservation Landscapes – Models for Successful Collaboration.”
Learn more and download the report at pawildscenter.org/studies-reports.
ABOUT THE PA WILDS
The Pennsylvania Wilds is a 13-county region that includes the counties of Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Warren, and northern Centre. The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to integrate conservation and economic development in a way that inspires the communities of the Pennsylvania Wilds. The PA Wilds Center promotes the region as a premier outdoor recreation destination as a way to create jobs, diversify local economies, inspire stewardship and improve quality of life. The PA Wilds strategy, managed by the PA Wilds Center, includes coordinated efforts around regional planning, community character and natural resource stewardship, public and private investments, operation of a regional value chain of local products and services tied to the regional brand, and a successful marketing campaign. The PA Wilds Center’s core programs and services seek to help businesses leverage the PA Wilds brand and connect with new market opportunities, including: the Wilds Cooperative of PA, a network of over 300 place-based businesses and organizations, and the PA Wilds Conservation Shop, a retail outlet primarily featuring products sourced from the WCO. For more information on the PA Wilds Center, visit www.PAWildsCenter.org. To learn more about the WCO, visit www.WildsCoPA.org. Explore the PA Wilds at www.pawilds.com.
LaKeshia Knarr | PA Wilds Center Communications Director