At the recent Jefferson County Commissioner Candidate Forum, one of the questions dealt with tourism. The question was how the candidate would promote tourism in Jefferson County.
Aside from incumbent Jeff Pisarcik who sits on the county’s Hotel Tax committee, not many of the candidates had given tourism much thought. Faced with a myriad of other problems facing the county, this may have seemed to be a low priority item. It should not be.
A recent report from the National Park Service showed tourism in the state created $566.2 million in economic benefits and 6,678 jobs in Pennsylvania. Remember that report only covered the National Parks. In 2014, the year of this report, visitors spent $395.6 million in the state.
Not all of these visitors may fit the traditional idea of a tourist. Some come for an afternoon. Others on a school field trip. Still others a longer family vacation. I cannot even begin to guess how many students I have spoken with in my volunteer work at the Gettsyburg National Battlefield Park.
Many of those buses came from the midwest and that means they probably drove right past our door. The key is getting those buses to stop. I fully understand those students are a tight schedule but I wonder if the makers of those schedules might not be induced to take a detour if they knew they were less than 20 minutes from the most famous groundhog in the world?
The people in Punxsy have done a magnificent job of promoting Phil. It is something that we can build upon.
Later this summer the efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers will bear fruit when the Scripture Rocks Park opens in Pine Creek Township. This collection of carved boulders is the largest collection of such works in the nation. The Scripture Rocks were largely ignored; They were the stuff of local legend.
Yet visitors found those rocks. Someone erected a rough cross out there and wrapped a crown of thorns around the top. When work was just starting at the site, the volunteers ran into a group of students from a Pennsylvania university. There is an appeal about those stones that draws people. For some it is a spiritual place and for others a curiosity. Regardless of why they come, they come.
Imagine what a good advertising campaign would do?
Of course the park has to be ready to receive visitors. The trails must be user friendly and, above all, there needs to be a parking lot. The Jefferson County Historical Society is working on funding for the projects without the need to apply for grants.
There also needs to be a viable infrastructure to receive those tourists. The proposed Cobblestone Hotel would be just off the Hazen interchange. Proposed development at the Nine Star site would also serve to accommodate visitors. The fact that all of this is within shouting distance of the county fairgrounds is icing on the cake.
According to the 2014 NPS report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.6 percent) followed by food and beverages (20.3 percent), gas and oil (11.9 percent), admissions and fees (10.2 percent) and souvenirs (9.9 percent). Imagine some of that staying right here in Jefferson County?
This cozy sequence of events did not just happen. For years the people on the fair board have labored to make our fairgrounds the equal of any in the state. The people at the Department of Development have put in some long hours to make the Jefferson County Industrial Park work and the people with the JCHS simply cannot receive enough praise.
I have heard some people scoff at tourism related jobs as just minimum wage jobs that don’t really add very much to the local economy. These jobs might be entry level positions but that often leads to bigger and better things for the individual. I know quite a few people in my generation who started with summer jobs. A summer job was far, far better than no job at all.
I believe this county has a lot to offer visitors. Sure, we don’t have the allure of a Gettysburg or Valley Forge but we have our own story to tell.
All we need is to find the people who will listen.