CLARION CO., Pa. — Cook Forest Sensory Trail earned the 2023 PA Wilds Great Places Champion Award, which honors innovative asset development and promotion that have worked together to create an excellent new or revamped sustainable tourism destination within the PA Wilds.
The winners will be honored at the 2023 PA Wilds Dinner & Awards, to be held on Thursday, July 27, at the Gobbler’s Knob Visitor Center in Punxsutawney.
The first sensory trail in the PA State Park system, the Cook Forest Sensory Trail is a ¼-mile paved loop for blind and physically disabled with braille/raised letter signage, a guide cable, sturdy benches, and a picnic area at the trailhead.
The Friends of Cook Forest, a volunteer, non-profit group dedicated to enhancing Cook Forest State Park, converted the quarter-mile paved trail into a Sensory Trail that will enable individuals with visual or physical impairments to experience the wonders of Cook Forest in an entirely new way.
The concept of adapting the existing ADA-accessible trail loop into a sensory trail was first brought to the Friends of Cook Forest board in the fall of 2020 by Mike and Mary Beth Doyle. The trail was dedicated in summer 2022.
2023 CHAMPION AWARDS WINNERS
Artisan of the Year Award: Sue Morris – Mill Hall, Clinton County
Best Brand Ambassador Award: New Trail Brewing Company – Williamsport, Lycoming County
Business of the Year Award: Highland Chocolates – Wellsboro, Tioga County
Conservation Stewardship Award: Kelly Williams – Clearfield County
Event of the Year Award: Potter-Tioga Maple Weekend – Potter and Tioga Counties
Great Design Award: Clearly Ahead Development’s River’s Landing Event Center – Clearfield, Clearfield County
Great Places Award: Cook Forest Sensory Trail – Clarion County
Inspiring Youth Award (Individual): Alex Luckenbill – Saint Marys, Elk County
Inspiring Youth Award (Organization): Allegheny Mountain Chapter, Trout Unlimited
Outstanding Leader Award: Erick Coolidge, Tioga County Commissioner – Tioga County
PA Wilds Planning Team Member of the Year: Dan Glotz, Warren County Planner – Warren County
The Champion of the Pennsylvania Wilds Awards celebrate individuals, organizations, communities and businesses that are making significant contributions to grow and sustainably develop the outdoor recreation economy and nature tourism in the Pennsylvania Wilds. There are nine award categories open for public nominations. Nominations for 2023 awards were due by April 3.
“There were so many amazing nominations for Champion Awards this year, making it challenging for the review committee,” said Beth Pellegrino, PA Wilds Center Board Member and Outreach Committee chair. “The theme of this year’s dinner is ‘Celebrating Decades of Conservation and Innovation,’ and these winners do just that. The tenacity, drive and passion of our 2023 Champions is to be commended! They have each made something special possible – and we are eager to celebrate their achievements on July 27!”
Registration is now open for the 2023 PA Wilds Dinner & Awards, which will be held at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Jefferson County, on Thursday, July 27. The cocktail hour and vendor displays begin at 3:00 p.m., followed by dinner and award presentations between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Pre-registration is required by 10:30 p.m. on July 20 at PAWilds.com/events. An early bird registration discount available until June 20.
About the Winners
Artisan of the Year Award: Sue Morris – Mill Hall, Clinton County
Sue Morris of Sue’s Salves was selected as the recipient of the 2023 PA Wilds Artisan of the Year Champion Award. The Artisan of the Year Award honors a PA Wilds Juried Artisan who has gone above and beyond to use their medium and creativity to promote the region or help advance The Wilds Cooperative of PA. Sue is a professional level Craft Artisan in the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania who specializes in making body and skin care products, along with herbal tinctures, from her own organic garden. Planting by the moon, Sue combines the concepts of spiritual wellbeing and natural remedies with craftsmanship to create her line of products. An advocate for and promoter of a healthy lifestyle through the use of medicinal herbs, she is also a well-known educator and sought-after speaker at herb, garden and artisan vendor events throughout the region. Sue has participated in several PA Wilds initiatives, including the PACE Program, a professional development cohort. She is a wholesale vendor to the PA Wilds Conservation Shop and sells her products on the PA Wilds Marketplace at ShopThePAWilds.com.
Best Brand Ambassador: New Trail Brewing Company – Williamsport, Lycoming County
Best Brand Ambassador Award honors an organization or individual who has made significant contributions to promoting and developing the PA Wilds brand through logo use, place name recognition, branded product development, storytelling, event or experience packaging or similar efforts. New Trail Brewing Company has won the 2023 PA Wilds Best Brand Ambassador Champion Award for their most recent collaboration brew, “The Wilds Are Calling.” New Trail has built a business around the outdoors and, despite being a relatively young brewery, New Trail has quickly grown into one of the largest microbreweries in PA. Further leaning into their home region, New Trail has led the development of a collaborative PA Wilds Hazy IPA, “The Wilds Are Calling.” There are 17 breweries, including New Trail, from across the PA Wilds landscape, that are involved in this branded beer. In addition to raising awareness about the PA Wilds through its distribution, a portion of proceeds from each beer sold will support the mission of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, which is to marry conservation and economic development in the PA Wilds region.
Business of the Year: Highland Chocolates – Wellsboro, Tioga County
Business of the Year Award honors a new or existing business that has taken bold steps to grow their business in a way that embodies what it means to marry conservation and economic development and to offer an authentic experience or product to visitors and residents. Highland Chocolates has been named the recipient of the 2023 PA Wilds Business of the Year Champion Award. Highland Chocolates is undergoing a remodeling project many years in the making. The new facility will allow for tours, as well as a window to view confection making when tours are not available. This will make Highland Chocolates a destination for tourists to our area. Highland Chocolates makes amazing chocolate, but it does so much more than that. In partnership with Partners In Progress, Highland Chocolates empowers individuals with disabilities to succeed! Highland Chocolates truly is “Extraordinary Chocolates by Extraordinary People.”
Conservation Stewardship: Kelly Williams – Clearfield County
The Conservation Stewardship Award honors the best practices and achievements of an individual, business or organization that demonstrates a commitment to conservation and outstanding resource stewardship of the natural and cultural assets in the PA Wilds. Kelly Williams of the Clearfield County Conservation District was selected as the recipient of the 2023 PA Wilds Conservation Stewardship Champion Award. In addition to stream work and protecting wetlands, Williams was involved in the effort to improve water quality in the Deer Creek Watershed, which was impaired by Acid Mine Drainage and had not been able to support any aquatic life for over 70 years. Wild trout can now be supported in this beautiful area of the PA Wilds, thanks to efforts of Williams and her colleagues at Clearfield County Conservation District. Williams is a past recipient of the Golden Reel Award from the Allegheny Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Event of the Year: Potter-Tioga Maple Weekend – Potter and Tioga Counties
Event of the Year Award recognizes a festival, race, art show or other local or regional event in the PA Wilds which through its quality and authenticity and use of the PA Wilds brand has become a regional attraction that is having a positive economic and social impact on the area. Potter-Tioga Maple Weekend earned the 2023 PA Wilds Event of the Year Champion Award. This event brings people from near and far to learn more about maple syrup and see maple products being produced. It’s not uncommon to see license plates from all the surrounding states in mid-March. Typically, more than a dozen individual maple farms are listed as participants in the event, which encourages people to stop by the farms to see the tap houses, taste the products and learn more about how the producers get the sap from the trees to the bottles. Products featured at the farms range from sugars and syrups to maple-covered nuts, cotton candies, maple butters and more! It’s truly a chance to partake in and taste the cultural heritage traditions of the PA Wilds.
Great Design: River’s Landing Event Center – Clearfield, Clearfield County
River’s Landing Event Center is the winner of the 2023 PA Wilds Great Design Champion Award, which honors an individual, business or organization that has done outstanding work to preserve, protect or enhance an area’s rural community character and to promote the use and understanding of the PA Wilds Design Guide.
River’s Landing Event Center is a two-story, 11,500-square-foot multi-occupancy facility in Downtown Clearfield, PA. The first floor is home to Keller Williams Realty (Lezzer Realty Group) and Dented Keg Brewing Company. The second floor is home to Clearly Ahead Development’s economic development offices, collaborative coworking space, and special event center. River’s Landing incorporates several themes of the PA Wilds Design Guide, such as inclusion of water, glass, stone, metal, signage, lighting, and locally sourced materials. Attention to placement of windows and outdoor seating was considered to take advantage of optimal shade and sun times. Lighting was directed downward, so as not to impact our dark skies.
Inspiring Youth (Individual): Alex Luckenbill – Saint Marys, Elk County
Alex Luckenbill, who is completing his junior year at Saint Marys Area High School, has been named the recipient of the 2023 PA Wilds Inspiring Youth Champion Award (Individual), which honors an adult or youth who has made outstanding contributions to involve young people in the work to grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy and to conserve its unparalleled natural and cultural resource assets. For his Eagle Scout project, 17-year-old Luckenbill from Saint Marys chose to partner with the Elk Country Visitor’s Center to construct a non-motorized apple cider press which debuted at the Center over Columbus Day weekend, 2022. Alex raised the majority of the funds needed for the project and collected a lot of the apples.
Inspiring Youth (Organization): Allegheny Mountain Chapter, Trout Unlimited
The Allegheny Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited has won the 2023 PA Wilds Inspiring Youth Champion Award (Organization) for its efforts to support youth education related to angling and outdoorsmanship. The Allegheny Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited sponsors DuBois Middle School Environmental day at camp mountain and teaches youth fishing, identification of macroinvertebrates, electro shocking and identification of invasive species; teaches Punxsutawney Elementary fishing skills and invasive species; and sponsors Trout in the Classroom in Brockway, DuBois Area and DuBois Catholic schools. The Allegheny Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited is having a regional impact by engaging youth in the sport of fishing, a heritage pastime in the PA Wilds region.
Outstanding Leader: Erick Coolidge – Tioga County Commissioner
Erick Coolidge has been named the 2023 PA Wilds Outstanding Leader Champion Award recipient. The Outstanding Leader Award honors a person, organization, business or elected official that has used their platform to advocate for outdoor recreation economic growth in the PA Wilds as a way to create jobs, diversify local economies, inspire stewardship and improve quality of life. Coolidge has been a pillar in Tioga County for more than 20 years. As commissioner, Coolidge was dedicated to the development and success of the Pine Creek Rail Trail as well as broader outdoor recreation opportunities in Tioga County. Commissioner Coolidge has supported a strong partnership within the local community, Growth Resources of Wellsboro, PennDOT and DCNR, to ensure the multi-faceted Pine Creek Rail Trail project would be a success. He has also been a strong advocate for local businesses.
PA Wilds Planning Team Member of the Year: Dan Glotz – Warren County
Dan Glotz is the recipient of the 2023 PA Wilds Planning Team Member of the Year Champion Award, which honors individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the work of the PA Wilds Planning Team. In his role as Warren County Planner, Glotz oversees the Warren County Planning Department and serves as a core member and past chair of the PA Wilds Planning Team. In addition to his regional efforts with the PA Wilds, Glotz also co-founded Walkable Warren, created and implemented the Warren Bike-Hike Trail, and led the creation of the county’s park and comprehensive plans. He also serves on PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc.’s Board Outreach Committee and is President of PA Route 6 Alliance. Glotz is a champion of heritage tourism and the impact of outdoor recreation on the economy and quality of life throughout the Route 6 Corridor and PA Wilds region.