PA Wilds Awards

It was a busy night for Warren County residents at the Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team’s 6th Annual Spring Briefing.

Warren County’s representative to the Planning Team, County Planning Director Dan Glotz was the emcee for the event in which Warren County residents took home a duo of awards.

The Great Event Award went to Warren County Winterfest, while Joe Colosimo with Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways was one of three honored with an Outstanding Leader Award.

Before dinner, attendees heard from PA Wilds Small Business Ombudsman Tataboline Enos.

Enos gave an update on small business endeavors in the PA Wilds and presented a video, “The Outdoor Recreation Economy”, on the state of economic activity in the region.

Enos highlighted the expansion of efforts beyond businesses tourist might visit to those who make outdoors products.

“In this last year, we’re working with manufacturers of outdoors items,” Enos said. “That’s an exciting new layer.”

Enos’ presentation highlighted an estimated $1.7 billion in visitor spending in the PA Wilds which equates to an 11.5 percent growth rate, the fourth highest amongst Pennsylvania’s 11 tourism regions.

Enos also noted a study on the make-up of those who visit the PA Wilds was released, which will aid in future planning.

Professor of Anthropology at Clarion University Susan C. Prezzano offered a presentation on excavation work at the junction of Milltone Creek and the Clarion River done in conjunction with high school and college undergraduate students.

The project, at the site of a former mill community in Millstone Township, Elk County, resulted in discovery of artifacts ranging from camping remains left in the last century to remains from the town and even the remains of indigenous people dating back up to 8,000 years.

Representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources gave updates on activity in the region.

Barry Denk from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania delivered the keynote speech.

Denk spoke on the results of a research study focusing on the educational, residential and career aspirations of rural youth in grades seven and 11.

He noted rural communities in the PA Wilds have the distinction of being an area in which deaths outpace births. He also noted a net loss of human capital, an aging population and workforce and a lack of young people entering community leadership positions.

The study noted that approximately one-third of students polled wanted to live in rural Pennsylvania while 27 percent reported being unsure of where they wanted to live. He advocated focusing on those who were unsure to retain youth but the study also found that only 38 percent of grade 11 students believed the area had enough jobs to provide one for everyone who wanted one. The study found a high percentage of students believed they needed to leave the area to obtain the career or education they wanted.

“Those who want to stay in rural Pennsylvania include some of the best and brightest,” Denks said, but cautioned that half of those who want to live in rural Pennsylvania also want to pursue four-year degrees, Something they may be unable to do in the area with present educational opportunities.

Denks also advocated for increasing access to technical education and two-year degrees, noting communities need people with technical skills to remain viable.

According to the study, 43 percent of youth said the opportunity to start their own business made staying in rural Pennsylvania a, “much more attractive,” proposition.

Denks made some suggestions on how to combat the problem including community entrepreneur funds aimed at helping young people who cannot secure traditional financing start businesses and community scholarships for students who cannot receive help with college on the basis of athletics or academics.

“We’re losing the risk-takers,” Denks said. “We need to create an environment about youth having a say in guiding the future of the community.”

Other awards besides Winterfest and Colosimo’s included; Artisan of the Year which went to Nelson Haas, Business of the Year which went to Benezette Wines, the Inspiring Youth Award which went to Don Bickford; three awards for Conservation Stewardship went to Jackie Flynn, Kim Bonfardine and PA Wildlife Habitat Unlimited; the Great Places Award went to the Station Gallery; besides Colosimo, Donald Hull and Bob Imhof received Outstanding Leadership Awards; the Great Design Award went to STEP, Inc., and Jim Weaver was named Planning Team Member of the Year.

The meeting was held at The Red Fern Inn, in Kersey.