Written by John Straitiff | Intro photo of the Climax Tunnel by Chris Lasher

2018 has been an exciting year at the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau and across the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region, even if it was a little wetter than normal. The year started off with Cook Forest being named Pennsylvania’s 2018 State Park of the Year and the launch of our new website VisitPAGO.com.

Cars line up to put the rubber to the road at the St. Marys Airport. Photo: Jeff London.

Spring saw a beautiful new Farmers Inn rise from the ashes of devastating fire in May of 2017 and Kalyumet Fore Fun open Pennsylvania’s first virtual reality (VR) escape room, both in the Cook Forest area. The Hunter’s Station Bridge Overlook, the return of drag races to the St. Marys Airport, and Chateau d’Argy in Brookville were new attractions in region as well.

New lodging providers welcomed guests in 2018, including: Castle Garden Bed and Breakfast, G.B Carrier House Inn, Maple Shade Mansion, Riverside Lodge, Rocky Timber Lodge, and The Hygrade Inn. Many visitors and locals were thrilled to learn about the openings of Chicken Hill Distillery, Triple Nickel Distillery, Copper Fox Wines, and Cook Forest Wines. Foodies found new places to dine, like Barrel 55 bbr, Calla’s Cafe, Fusion Cafe, and The Sub Hub.

Part of the Climax Tunnel’s restoration involved reinforcing the ceiling and extending the total length from 528 to 608 feet. Photo: Chris Lasher.

Hikers were able to explore the newly opened Climax Tunnel on Redbank Valley Trail and the new Clarion Loop Trail, a three-mile spur off of the North Country National Scenic Trail linking the town of Clarion and the Clarion River.

The new Sinnemahoning Water Trail gave paddlers more than 75 miles to explore through picturesque landscapes on the Driftwood Branch, Bennett Branch, and main branch of Sinnemahoning Creek.

2018 celebrated 50 years of protected trails and rivers with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and National Trails System Act. We are blessed to have two rivers and three trails in our region protected by them: the Allegheny River, Clarion River, North Country National Scenic Trail, Mahoning Shadow Trail, and Black Cherry Trail.

When the 2018 PA Wilds Champions Awards were announced, six winners from the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region took home hardware:

  1. Great Places Award Winner: Colson E. Blakeslee Memorial Recreation Area – Benezette Township, Elk County
  2. Conservation Stewardship (Individual) Award Winner: Bekki Titchner – Elk County
  3. Conservation Stewardship (Group) Award Winner: PA Firefly Festival, Inc. – Tionesta, Forest County
  4. Member of the Year Award Winner: Jan Hampton – Emporium, Cameron County
  5. Artisan of the Year Award Winner: Kyle Yates – Brookville, Jefferson County
  6. Best Brand Ambassador Award Winner: Katie Weidenboerner – Elk County

Erik the Travel Guy talks with environmental educator Dale Luthringer at Cook Forest State Park.

National audiences were exposed to the many things our region has to offer travelers through two television series. The first was hosted by Erik Hastings, better known as Erik the Travel Guy from the PBS show Beyond Your Backyard, with a 30-minute episode called “Pennsylvania’s Great Outdoors.” The response to the program was nothing short of amazing. The second show was Friends in Wild Places that runs on Pursuit Channel and AT&T Sportsnet. The episode “Here Fishy, Fishy” featured drift boat fly-fishing for smallmouth bass in Cameron County with me as the host and Todd Deluccia as the guide. TV viewers in central Pennsylvania were treated to segments on the series Kaleidoscope featuring Groundhog Day, Foxburg Country Club, Domtar’s trout hatchery in Johnsonburg, Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts’ Lincoln Hall and Redbrick Gallery in Foxburg, the Jefferson County Longrifles Winter Rendezvous, calf tagging in Elk Country, and drag racing at the St. Marys Airport.

The year ended with a bang when Governor Wolf announced a $663,400 grant to develop the Brady Tunnel along the Armstrong Trail near East Brady as well as a $64,000 grant for Piney Rail Riders for a feasibility study for the Piney Branch ATV Rail Corridor, which runs approximately 24 miles from Piney Township to Brookville Borough in Clarion and Jefferson Counties. The good news continued with the U.S. Postal Service announcing that the Clarion River will be honored in 2019 on a postage stamp and the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds & Rivers nominating the Clarion River for 2019 Pennsylvania River of the Year. You can cast your vote here until January 4, 2019.

As the year nears the end, I am thankful to be blessed with a good staff, supportive board, and wonderful members, and I’m honored that my job is promoting the region, attractions, people, and places that I so dearly love and call my home. May you have a safe and happy new year filled with joy, love, family, and friends.

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