The Pennsylvania Wilds is a 12 1/2-county region that offers tremendous outdoor experiences, some of the best in the nation, with 29 state parks, 50 state game lands, abundant wildlife and hundreds of miles of land and water trails. The amount of public land in the region — more than 2 million acres — is comparable to Yellowstone. The region is home to the largest elk herd in the northeast, some of the darkest skies in the country, and boasts a rich oil and lumber history. More than 50 million people live within a day's drive of the Pennsylvania Wilds — making it an attractive place to come hunt, bike, hike, camp, fish, canoe, explore America’s heritage and more.
As traditional industries in rural PA have declined, sustainable tourism development has emerged as a way to create jobs, diversify local economies, improve quality of life and inspire stewardship of the region’s incredible natural and cultural assets. In the early 2000s, state and local leaders serving the Pennsylvania Wilds region formed a groundbreaking pact to work together to grow the region’s nature and heritage tourism industry. They called it the Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative.
The PA Wilds Initiative has many components: branding and marketing, community revitalization, planning, business development and infrastructure upgrades. All of them take place simultaneously by many different stakeholders.
At the state level, the PA Dept. of Conservation & Natural Resources, which manages much of the public lands in the region, spearheads the PA Wilds Initiative. They work in concert with the PA Dept. of Community and Economic Development, which houses the PA Tourism Office and many of the small business and community development programs that serve rural PA. Dozens of heritage and tourism professionals, county planners, public lands and waterway managers, small businesses, main street managers and others from across the region have joined forces to help guide the Initiative in a way that makes sense for their communities.
Regional partnerships, grassroots support, and strategic thinking and investing at the state and local level are hallmarks of the Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative. The results so far have been incredible. We’ve highlighted some of them in our recent “Making an Impact” report. We hope you’ll check it out.
Sustainable tourism development cannot solve all of rural Pennsylvania’s economic challenges, but it is part of the answer and making a real difference in communities across the region. We hope you’ll get involved.
-Ta Brant, PA Wilds Small Business Ombudsman