Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Increasing the amount of outdoor recreation is a “pleasant problem”

Photo courtesy of Gary Lester The COVID-19 closure has resulted in rapid use of recreational areas such as Trails at Jakes Rocks. Officials say 2021 fell short of 2020 in terms of overall recreation use, but note that 2021 did exceed 2019, the last year unaffected by the pandemic.

Massive shutdowns in 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic pushed people outside.

Camping skyrocketed. Outdoor recreation organizations have reported record years.

Was 2020 a blip on that radar, or part of a new trend?

Even with 2021 in the books, it might still be too early to tell.

“The general consensus we’ve heard is that rec usage in 2021 was slightly lower than 2020 but higher than 2019,” This was reported by Rich Hatfield, District Ranger of the Bradford Allegheny National Forest.

Times Observer file photo by Bryan Ferry Participants kick the waters of Chapman Lake at the start of the US Canoe & Kayak Association’s National Youth Marathon. The race was one of several events hosted by the Warren County Chamber of Commerce last year. Everyone had a common theme in the world of COVID-19 – they were outside.

Chapman State Park staff told the Times Observer that “Parks’ attendance and bookings in 2021 continued to exceed their historical averages in 2019 and earlier, but 2021 performance did not outperform 2020 performance.”

This is a trend seen across the entire state park system, they say.

“The tourism scene heading into 2022 has never been healthier in terms of outdoor recreation,” Dave Sherman, executive director of the Warren County Visitors Bureau, added.

“We have had companies tell us that they have broken records in 2021 or 2020. Some told us that they can no longer take clients on summer weekends.

– It’s a nice problem.

The Warren County Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted several events in 2021, including the Food Truck Festival, the Industrial Softball Tournament, and the Jakes Rocks Trail Fest. They also now run the Warren County Winter Festival, which is scheduled for the weekend of February 4th.

All these events have at least one thing in common – they take place outside.

“We focused our event schedule in 2021 primarily on outdoor events and we were very pleased with the turnout we saw at our events,” John Papalia, the Chamber’s Director of Operations and Tourism, explained. “I think for many, going out to the event was a welcome change after the lockdown.

“We have worked to ensure that events and events are held as safely as possible. At events like the Jakes Rocks Trail Fest, thousands of mountain bikers have been able to ride the trail system.”

Paid vacation spots on the ANF are privately managed by Allegheny Site Management, and figures provided by Hatfield show an increase in revenue from $965,480 in 2020 to $991,648 in 2021.

Willow Bay, Red Bridge, and Buckaloons were the sites that generated the most revenue, each exceeding $200,000.

According to Hatfield, gaining control over the use of ANF sites that don’t charge fees is “a bit more difficult.

“I tried to compare a couple of sites where we have good data for the last couple of years. The biggest difference was in March-May 2020 when schools were closed and many people wanted to get out of the house.” he said. “It was then that we saw the biggest jump in the use of undeveloped rivers (like trails).

“The figures for 2021 may be slightly lower than for 2020, but I hesitate to draw conclusions.”

Action in Washington provides much-needed funding to try to capitalize on the growth of the past two years.

“Forest is hard at work putting together compelling proposals to restore some of our circa 1960s recreational properties,” Hatfield said. “The Great American Open Air Act and Infrastructure Bill has given us literally a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure and improve the recreational resources of the forest.”

“The ANF will receive additional Great American Outdoor Act funding in 2022.” This was stated by the officer of the operational headquarters of the ANF Tim Vetter. “We expect to begin significant investments this season or early 2023, which include redevelopment of Longhouse Scenic Drive, Jakes Rocks Road, Kiasutha Campground and Irwin Run Canoe Launch.

“This investment is in addition to the ongoing maintenance and minor improvements that Forest is able to make annually with our traditional Congressional appropriations.”

Hatfield said planning to restore the Dewdrop Recreation Area has begun and that the new section of trail will link the Jakes Rocks system to Dewdrop.

ANF ​​also “This year we will be focusing on our Boat-To Campgrounds (Morrison, Pine Grove, Beautiful Lake, Hopewell and Pine Grove,” he explained. “The sites have gone down a bit – this summer we want to spend some time on deferred maintenance on the sites and improve the visitor experience.”

One site that is still under development is the Kinzua Point Information Center.

“It’s hard for me to say now what the vision of the Kinzua Point Information Center is,” Hatfield said. “Warren County and the Warren County Chamber of Commerce and Industry have commissioned a study to look at various options for the site, and of course we will be engaging our partners at the Warren County Visitors Bureau in any future visitor center decisions.

“Of course, the site has a future”, he stressed. “The views from there are absolutely stunning and this place is a frequent stopover for both residents and passing guests. The good news is that we will be able to open the toilets again next summer. This fall we were able to test the water system and everything looked good. In the spring we will start the water supply system, and until everything passes the test, we will be able to open the toilets.”

Tourism will still need flexibility and fresh thinking in 2022.

“I think we will continue to see people adapt to how the pandemic has played out,” Papalia said. “I think that over the past couple of years, we and almost everyone has learned one thing: you need to be able to adapt.

“For most of our community events or other chamber initiatives, we look and say what ‘normal’ looks like and plan for it. If we need to make changes because we have things to do, we can adapt to our plan B or C. I think adaptability is definitely the new normal and we try to be prepared for different situations.

Sherman also highlighted the role that county residents play in promoting and developing the tourism sector.

“Stop. Complaints. Oh. Everything,” he said. “When visitors come here, they are happy. When they rest or visit here, they are happy. They don’t complain about our parking prices or restaurant prices. Many times visitors scoff at prices, especially for parking.

“Visitors want to be told something they don’t know – who serves good wings, where is a quiet place to walk, where is the river access for my kayak? They don’t want to hear complaints. They left complaints at home. Greet them. Encourage them. They listen to us. We can be positive or negative.”

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