2022 PA Wilds Champion Award Winners Announced; Celebration Dinner July 28

On June 8, the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. announced the nine winners of the 2022 Champions of the PA Wilds Awards. The winners will be honored at the 2022 PA Wilds Dinner & Awards, to be held on Thursday, July 28.

The Champion of the Pennsylvania Wilds Awards celebrate individuals, groups, organizations, communities and businesses that in the last year have made significant contributions to help grow and sustainably develop the outdoor recreation economy and nature tourism in the Pennsylvania Wilds in a way that creates jobs, diversifies local economies, inspires stewardship and improves quality of life.

There are nine award categories open for public nominations each year.

The region’s county governments, visitor bureaus and many local organizations participate in the effort, along with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Community and Economic Development.

“The 2022 Champions are a slate of outstanding community members and organizations that make an enormous contribution to the vitality of our region. We are so proud to be able to honor these deserving individuals and organizations for their efforts at the first PA Wilds Dinner & Awards banquet to take place in nearly three years,” said Beth Pellegrino, PA Wilds Center Board Member and Outreach Committee chair.

The PA Wilds Dinner & Awards will be held at Bald Bird Brewing Company in Jersey Shore, Lycoming County, on Thursday, July 28.

The event will open with networking opportunities at 3:00 p.m., followed by dinner and award presentations between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. Registration is due by July 20, with an early bird registration discount available until June 21.

2022 Champion Award Winners

The winners of this years awards are--

-- Artisan of the Year Award: Carol Cillo – Lock Haven, Clinton County

Carol Cillo was chosen as the 2022 Artisan of the Year for the PA Wilds. Cillo is a fine artist who primarily works with ceramics and acrylics in Clinton County. She participates in the Wilds Cooperative of PA as a Professional Level Juried Artisan.

Beyond being an artisan herself, Cillo regularly takes part in regional arts initiatives that have a wide reach for all artists within the PA Wilds.

Through her role in the Clinton County Arts Council, she encourages artists such as herself to become rooted in the landscape of the PA Wilds and showcase the area through “creative placemaking.”

-- Best Brand Ambassador Award: Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival – Cross Fork, Clinton County

Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival, an annual event that takes place overlooking Kettle Creek Watershed in Clinton County, was selected for the 2022 Brand Ambassador Award for PA Wilds.

Organizers Ron and Teresa Kodish intentionally have promoted the festival to embrace the natural environment of northern Clinton County and the historic importance of local roots music and storytelling.

As you enter the parking area, you are greeted by Smoked Country Jam and PA Wilds signage, along with the view of the natural amphitheater of the main performance area.

It has a mini-Woodstock feel with a blue grass theme and family friendly focus. One of the two main performance areas is called the “PA Wilds stage."

-- Business of the Year Award: Belle Mercantile – Bellefonte, Centre County

Belle Mercantile, a Centre County-based marketplace for artisans and aspiring entrepreneurs, was selected as the 2022 Business of the Year.

Owners, and wife and husband, Andrea Skirpan and Brian Bonner, opened the store in September of 2020. The hope was to establish a unique destination for visitors to shop, while providing a brick-and-mortar location for local businesses owners searching for a permanent space.

In addition to providing a cost-effective space, Belle Mercantile promotes the businesses within through its own advertising efforts while also acting as a customer service representative to handle customer orders and requests.

Not only has Belle Mercantile brought new business into the downtown Bellefonte area, but Andrea and Brian, also act as leaders within the business community.

-- Conservation Stewardship Award: Dale Luthringer – Cooksburg, Forest County

Dale Luthringer, an Environmental Education Specialist for Cook Forest State Park, was chosen for the 2022 Conservation Stewardship Award.

Luthringer creates and leads teacher workshops and environmental education programs, with about 18,000 attending each year.

He also conducts various forms of ecological research on topics such as acid mine reclamation, white-tailed deer populations, West Nile virus, old growth forest documentation, National Audubon Society SAP’s, Pennsylvania Herpetological Atlas, Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas, gypsy moth suppression, and hemlock wooly adelgid, among others.

Luthringer also organizes various community educational and volunteer events such as the Woodsy Owl Workday, the Cook Forest Big Tree Extravaganza, and the Cook Forest French & Indian War Encampment.

-- Event of the Year Award: Groundhog Day – Punxsutawney, Jefferson County

The nationally known Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Jefferson County, was selected as PA Wilds’ 2022 Event of the Year.

When it comes to rural tourism marketing, it’s hard to think of an event more wildly successful than Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day.

This small, otherwise unassuming town in western Pennsylvania has figured out how to take a nondescript animal you can see alongside any road just about anywhere in the eastern U.S., give it a magical backstory and turn it into an immortal celebrity with a signature event.

Each year, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club organizes the February 2nd festivities that draw in up to 30,000 visitors. With those visitors comes an influx of tourism, with dollars being spent around the region on souvenirs, food, services and hospitality.

-- Great Design Award: The Gamble Mill – Bellefonte, Centre County

The Gamble Mill, a renovated historic mill in Bellefonte that now serves as an inn and restaurant, was chosen for the 2022 Great Design Award for the PA Wilds.

Brothers Jonathon and Chris Virgilio saw an opportunity to breathe new life into one of the last remaining grain mills in the country, with original construction dating back to before Bellefonte was even a town.

The owners had to find the right balance in the design to preserve the historic nature of the building while incorporating modern amenities.

Today the mill operates as a small inn, incorporating uniquely different suites with contemporary touches.

As part of the brothers’ business model, they have also utilized the additional space by adding a restaurant (The Creekside), a cocktail lounge (The Republic), a speakeasy (private event space), and a boutique (Smith & Front).

-- Great Places Award: Twin Lakes Recreation Area – Wilcox, Elk County

Twin Lakes Recreation Area in Elk County was selected for the 2022 PA Wilds Great Places Award.

Due to capacity and budget restraints, the Allegheny National Forest was originally going to close Twin Lakes. Friends of Twin Lakes saved the area and is now bringing in guests every weekend during camping and travel season.

Twin lakes Recreation Area boasts a swimming area and bathhouse, picnic pavilion, campground, interpretive trails and a heavily stocked trout stream.

-- Inspiring Youth Award: Lu Potter – Pennsdale, Lycoming County

Lu Potter, one of the founders of Project Coffee House in Clinton County and now Project Nature C.A.M.P., successor to Summer Alive in Lycoming County, was chosen for the PA Wilds Inspiring Youth Award for 2022.

Potter has been impacting the lives of young people in the PA Wilds for decades.

The programming that Potter oversees incorporates participation of agencies and individuals in the community of Montgomery, creating broad ownership, and it provides enrichment activities for children during the summer, including life experiences through crafts, books and special guests; an emphasis on gardening and healthy eating habits; opportunities for interactive play and games, accenting teamwork; and nutritious food to all participants.

-- Outstanding Leader Award: Meredith Hill

Meredith Hill, who has been involved with the Pennsylvania Wilds since its inception roughly 20 years ago, was chosen as the recipient of the 2022 PA Wilds Outstanding Leader Award. Hill has served as the Pennsylvania Wilds Conservation Landscape Director for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources during most of that time.

She plans to retire sometime in 2023, leaving a position that has always been more than just a job to her.

Hill has been a source of inspiration for many of those still working for the PA Wilds. She played an integral role in the development and growth of the Pennsylvania Wilds initiative, participating in long planning meetings during the early days, and she continues to put her heart into the PA Wilds.

“The Board of Directors tasked with selecting the winners of this year’s Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds Awards commented on the challenging review process, as there were many great nominations from across our region. We encourage those who submitted nominations that were not selected this year to submit them next year,” said Pellegrino. “To provide ample time and opportunity for nominations, we have decided to leave the nomination forms open year-round.

Nominations for the 2023 Champion of PA Wilds Awards will be due by April 23, 2023.

Celebration Event Details

The July 28 PA Wilds Dinner & Awards will open at 3:00 p.m. with networking opportunities, followed by dinner and award presentations between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m.

The theme for this year’s dinner is “Grow Wild: Rugged and Resourceful,” reflective of the last two years of resilience seen in communities across the Pennsylvania Wilds and harkening back to the original Declaration of Principles for the Pennsylvania Wilds Team.

The location for the dinner is the Bald Birds Brewing Company in Jersey Shore, Lycoming County.

Bald Birds is located in a rejuvenated, 153,000-square-foot distribution center that was opened by owners Joe and Abby Feerrar in the fall of 2020. The facility is home to a taproom, a wedding and event venue, outdoor seating and gaming areas, and a production brewery. 

This special event is the premier networking opportunity in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

More than 250 businesses and community leaders from across the Pennsylvania Wilds, along with state partners and officials from Harrisburg, will gather for the dinner to recognize award winner Champions of the PA Wilds and get an update on the effort to grow the region’s outdoor recreation economy.

Register by June 21 for the early bird price of $30 per person. Price is $35 per person after June 21.

Registrations are due by 11 p.m. Eastern Time on July 20, 2022.

Click Here to register and learn more.

The Pennsylvania Wilds is a 13-county region that includes the counties of Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Warren, and northern Centre.

To learn more, visit the PA Wilds Center website.  To plan a visit to the region, go to the Visit PA Wilds website.

[Posted: June 8, 2022]


Go To Preceding Article     Go To Next Article

Return to This PA Environment Digest's Main Page