Welcome to the PA Wilds Design Guide for Community Character Stewardship - Second Edition, 2017

Too often, development comes at the expense of scenic quality, natural resource preservation, and individual community character. Early, strategic and coordinated regional planning for new development will protect the authentic character and lifestyle of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

The image of a community is fundamentally important to its economic well-being.

- Ed McMahon

The PA Wilds Design Assistance Program was created with this in mind. At the core of the program is the PA Wilds Design Guide for Community Character Stewardship, now in it's second edition, published in 2017. The Design Guide is a voluntary planning document that highlights how communities in the Pennsylvania Wilds can protect or enhance their unique community character as they grow – whether that growth is due to tourism, other economic development planning, resource extraction or other industries.

Target Audiences: Developers, planners, architects, business or property owners, revitalization partners, investors, national chains, community leaders and citizens

Design Assistance: Resources for Special Situations

If a project in your area will have a big impact on the look and feel of your community and design assistance is needed NOW to find ways to help it better fit your landscape, The Early Detection and Rapid Response Design Assistance Program could provide a solution.

Apply Today


Download the Design Guide

The Design Guide can be downloaded in its entirety, or individual chapters that are targeted towards a particular project may be downloaded individually.

The complete Design Guide file is 335 pages, and a 32 MB download.

Design Guide Implementation Toolkit

The Design Guide Implementation Toolkit is a companion piece for the PA Wilds Design Guide, setting forth steps and tools to assist in fulfilling the goals set forth in the Design Guide and capitalizing on communities’ historic values and cultural resources. The toolkit includes sample ordinance language, an implementation matrix and more.

Download the Design Guide by Chapter

Users Guide
Download Chapter 1 – Introduction
A Special Place
Why is Regional Character Important?
What is a Design Guide?
Why is a Design Guide Needed?
Guiding Principles
Toolbox for Using Design Guide
(3.4 MB download)

Download Chapter 2 - Consider Regional Themes
Thematic Elements
Theme: The Pennsylvania Wilds Logo
Primary Themes: Wood and Timber, History and Patriotism & Architectural Styles
Secondary Themes: Water, Wildlife, Glass, Stone and Brick
Toolbox for Regional Identity
(8.2 MB download)

Download Chapter 3 - Implement Best Practices
Best Practices
Rural Communities
Residential Neighborhoods
Town Centers
Roadway Corridors
Toolbox for Implementing Best Practices
(6.4 MB download)

Download Chapter 4 - Lessen the Impact of Intrusive Development
Assessing the Impact
Strip Commercial, Big Boxes, and Franchises
Hotels and Lodging
Utility Towers
Wind Energy Facilities
Toolbox for Lessening Impacts
(3.4 MB download)

Download Chapter 5 - Complement the Landscape
Protect Scenic Viewsheds and Vistas
Be Sensitive to Natural Landforms
Preserve Dark Skies
Value Trees and the Landscape
Be Environmentally Responsible
Toolbox for Complementing the Landscape
(4.8 MB download)

Download Chapter 6 - Context-Sensitive Transportation
The Experience of Travel
The Roadway Network
Trails and Paths
Toolbox for Context-Sensitive Transportation
(3.5 MB download)

Download Chapter 7 - A Decade of Success
Design Initiatives
Project Case Studies
(3.8 MB download)

Development decisions of today will impact future economic health and quality of life in the region.

The Pennsylvania Wilds is known for its strong sense of place... a truly unique place to travel and call home, with millions of acres of public land, charming towns & cities, and local businesses and artisans that draw inspiration from our beautiful natural landscapes and rich heritage.


Download the PA Wilds Design Guide: Oil & Gas Supplement



We are the stewards of our regional character, building sustainable communities for generations to come.

Articles by Ed McMahon on Sustainable Development

Ed McMahon of the Urban Land Institute and a national expert on sustainable community design, says the effort to grow the place-based tourism industry in the Pennsylvania Wilds is “one of the single greatest rural, natural resource-based, economic development programs in the United States of America.”

A former TED Talk speaker, McMahon is well known for his passion and humor and his ability to use common sense and before-and-after photos to transcend political and other lines. He served as the Keynote Speaker at the 2017 PA Wilds Dinner & Awards Banquet.

In 2022, he published two new articles focused on the importance of place and the decision-making processes that help preserve and protect the unique aspects of our communities. Read them below.

Ed McMahon