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Region recognizes ‘Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds’
More than 130 business and community leaders from across the Pennsylvania Wilds gathered May 15 to get an update on the state and local effort to grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy, and to honor 10 organizations and individuals for outstanding work in conservation and sustainable tourism development.

Among the honorees were DCNR’s Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park and DCNR educator Eric Rensel.

The annual dinner and awards banquet, now in its seventh year, is hosted by the PA Wilds Planning Team, a group comprised of planners from the region’s 12 county governments and other local, state and federal stakeholders from the public and private sectors.

The evening began with a video, “Celebrating Our Partners,” which captured how partnerships are at the heart of the PA Wilds movement.

DCNR’s Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds
DCNR’s "Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds."

Visitors spent an estimated 1.7 billion in the PA Wilds in 2011—an 11.5 percent rate of growth that was the fourth highest among the state’s 11 tourism regions, according to the latest figures from the state Tourism Office.

Ten individuals, businesses and organizations being named 2014 Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

“The PA Wilds Planning Team is proud to recognize the incredible work being done by so many local residents, businesses and organizations to grow our region’s nature and heritage tourism industry,” said PA Wilds Planning Team Chair Dan Glotz.

The winners are:

Abbi Peters - Outstanding Leader Award
Abbi Peters is the Executive Director of the Elk County Council of the Arts, and was a founding member of the PA Wilds Artisan Trail. Her role in the Artisan Trail has been very broad. She's provided leadership to the project, mentored artists and trail sites, coordinated jury sessions, designed the trail's traveling display and has actively helped recruit new artists and trail sites. In addition to the work she's done with the Artisan Trail, she also is actively engaged in her community and the region, working closely with programs like Leadership Elk County, the Discover Partnership, coordinating the Art in Education program for the region, and coordinating the PA Partner in the arts program for the region.

Wildlife Center at Sinnemahoning State Park/Park Office - Great Places Award
Going Wild is now easier for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore the vast region north of Interstate-80 known as the PA Wilds. During the past ten years, the commonwealth has made major investments within the region. One of the recent completions is the Wildlife Center and Park Office at Sinnemahoning State Park. Here, visitors to the PA Wilds have a starting point for scores of outdoor activities and wildlife watching opportunities. Since its opening in October 2011, the Wildlife Center has attracted over 65,000 visitors. Sinnemahoning State Park has always been a destination park because of its location and the wildness and tranquility that is offered in the First Fork Valley, and the new Wildlife Center has been a great addition to this already great park.

Eric Rensel - Conservation Stewardship Individual Award
Eric Rensel is a leader, conservationist and member of the DCNR Pennsylvania Wilds Recreation Team. Mr. Rensel has created not one, but two significant geocaching Trails that feature the region's conservation heritage and the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. These trails allow visitors to follow in the footsteps of early conservationists so they can see the work that has been done and be inspired to continue the work that was started so long ago. Eric's work has helped reinforce what residents of the PA Wilds and visitors to the region can do to appreciate, maintain and preserve our beautiful area.

Collins Pine Company - Kane Hardwoods Division - Conservation Stewardship Organization Award
Collins Pine Company is one of the largest private landowners in the PA Wilds Region with over 115,000 acres of timberland. All of the land is open to public use for camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding or any other non-motorized outdoor recreation use. Much of the land has been in company ownership since the 1960s and some ownership dates back to the founding of the company in 1855. The land has been certified by the internationally acclaimed Forest Stewardship Council as sustainably managed forests since 1995—the first in the state! With over 100 employees at their Kane Hardwood Sawmill, Collin's Pine has proven that conservation and business can go hand-in-hand.

Blossburg Borough - Great Design Award
In response to oil and gas development and other factors impacting the community, Blossburg Borough in Tioga County, has developed a new comprehensive plan. The plan focuses on five priority projects including: creating a park and recreation master plan; establishing a capital improvement program; forming a partnership with the school district; developing and implementing a community communication program; and launching a community branding and promotion program. The comprehensive plan also incorporates the PA Wilds Design Guide, the Oil and Gas Supplement for the Design Guide, and the Center for Sustainable Shale Development's Performance Standards. This project has already resulted in activities that will increase employment, create additional recreational opportunities and further the stewardship of natural resources.

Laughing Owl Press - Artisan of the Year Award
Laughing Owl Press was started in 2010 by Joe and Andrea Lanich after they moved back to the area. The Lanichs are active members of the PA Wilds Artisan Trail and Andrea participated on the Artisan Trail's team at the PA Wilds Workshop: Connecting Nature, Economy and Community Character. Joe is currently a member of the Artisan Trail Advisory Committee, providing insight and leadership to the future of the Artisan Trail. Laughing Owl Press has also been a key partner in the expansion of the Proudly Made in the Pennsylvania Wilds brand, and they have many popular products for sale on the artisan trail. Laughing Owl press is featured in the PA Wilds youth entrepreneurship video, and produces the letterpress map of the region that is distributed to students who participate in the program, which is well received.

Country Squirrel Outfitters, LLC - Business of the Year Award
Country Squirrel Outfitters owners Miranda and Steve Putt have recently opened their canoe, and kayak livery and retail shop in Ridgway. Not only are they entrepreneurs, Country Squirrel has been proactive in developing a positive working relationship with DCNR land managers in both state parks and forestry to broaden the array of programming they can offer through their popular outdoor outfitting business. This is just the sort of public/private partnership that the state hoped would be forged as part of the PA Wilds effort. They also enthusiastically communicate the conservation stewardship aspects of the PA Wilds work and understand and leverage the PA Wilds brand in their business operations.

Cameron County Conservation District - Inspiring Youth Award
The Cameron County Conservation District has developed a strong partnership with the school district and other youth and nature based clubs to help educate kids about the wonders of nature and how to protect it for future generations. The list of programs offered is extensive including: Envirothon; My Growing Tree; Water Quality Education; Poster Contests; Wild About Nature Field Day; Growing Up Wild; Exploring Nature with Young Children; Outdoor Club; Enviroscape; and many others. Through these programs, they reach hundreds of youth each year including every 4th, 5th, and 6th grade student in the school district.

Cameron County Canoe and Kayak Classic - Event of the Year Award
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 12-mile long Cameron County Canoe and Kayak Classic. This event has grown from a small local event into a large race that attracts over 100 paddlers from across the United States. The event opens participant's eyes to the natural assets of Cameron County, which is nestled in the heart of the PA Wilds. The event is heavily sponsored by local businesses, but it also gives back, partnering with local companies to design and produce the t-shirts and unique wooden paddles that are highly coveted by participants. The event also engages the Cameron County Outdoor Youth Organization, Mountaineer Search and Rescue, Cameron County Emergency Services, and others to scout the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning River for hazards, conduct a river clean-up, and act as spotters and rescuers in the event of an emergency. If you haven't attended the Cameron County Canoe and Kayak Classic, you're missing one of the greatest spectacles in the PA Wilds.

Debbie Lunden - Member of the Year Award
Debbie Lunden has been a vital part of the Pennsylvania Wilds since the Planning Team was established in 2005. She believes in the PA Wilds so strongly, that when she retired in 2014, she accepted a nomination to continue serving on the planning team as a partner so that she could remain actively involved. During her tenure on the Planning Team, Deb served as a member of the Design Guide Development Committee. The PA Wilds Design Guide is one of the Planning Teams most impactful projects, and has received state and national recognition. She was also involved with the PA Wilds Planning Study, PA Wilds Transportation and Byways Committee, served as the Planning Team's Secretary, and as a member of the PA Wilds Planning Team Executive Committee. Deb has also been involved in numerous other organizations and committees focused on planning and economic development, and she has been instrumental in educating these groups on the importance of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Wilds go here.

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June 11, 2014

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