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PA Tourism Improvement Ideas: Preserving What We Have & Building Where Needed

This article is a grouping of ideas that I have thought of, basically since the start of this page, more than seven years ago. Some things have continually bothered me as areas in which the state needs to better realize what it has with scenic tourism opportunities, both to enrich local life within the state, and to provide more opportunities for short term and long term employment. I generally like to keep things positive on this page, but unfortunately, there are major areas in which the state can improve. I was compelled to finally post this article with the troubling developments up at Conneaut Lake Park, where the park is in the midst of being dismantled and the future of the park's most legendary ride is up in the air.

Route 22 approaching Altoona. Photo courtesy of Google Streetview, since I do not take photos while I am driving.

  • Not enough promotion of scenic drives and not enough pull off areas developed for scenic overlooks. Route 22 heading out to Altoona comes to mind. You have an excellent four lane highway that traverses a series of impressive mountains, and not one scenic pull off area, when you could easily add three or four. This stretch of road could be designated a scenic drive, with a name like "Alleghenies Scenic Highway" or something like that, and you could have a place that people would seek out like a small scale version of Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
    A place where Route 22 and the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line meet near Huntingdon. I got this awesome view from pulling off of the shoulder of the road at this point. 

    Several ridges deserve Scenic Overlook/Vista pulloffs, in addition to the stretch leading from the Gallitizin/Altoona area, where you can see the railroad head into Horseshoe Curve.
    Route 22 Near Lewistown and Mifflintown, granted this is near a boat launch on the Juniata River which serves as an unofficial scenic pull off, which is the closest thing Route 22 has to a scenic overlook pull off in Pennsylvania

    Route 22/William Penn Highway from Altoona, Huntingdon, Lewistown, through the Juniata River Valley, all the way through Harrisburg, is extremely scenic, yet there are no scenic overlook pulloffs on the road. Same with the PA Turnpike, I-81, 322, 22, 28, 30, and more. The stretch of 30/Lincoln Highway from Chambersburg, all the way through Breezewood, has tremendous views all along it, yet there are no officially built scenic overlook pulloffs along it. In an age of electronic distractions and fatigue on the roads, having more places to pull off and rest for a little bit are very much needed and to help cut down on distracted driving as well. You could make dozens of scenic overlook stops across the state, giving off views of mountains, valleys, rivers, and more, and maybe even create some small trails from those spots. It would promote tourism and help to bring that economic growth to the state. There are also many stretches of state forest roads that have absolutely breathtaking scenic overlooks that have almost no signage guiding people towards them. The former Colerain State Park area immediately comes to mind, with a road that features scenic overlooks off of both sides of a mountain. Scenic pull off areas have been built, but there are no signs guiding people towards them, or any promotion within tourism publications that mentions this as a place that you need to check out. The state and residents of these regions are missing out on tourism potential in these places. Especially on the highways, I find myself pulling off the side of a shoulder to take in. Pennsylvania is extremely behind when it comes to highlighting roadside scenic overlook pulloffs, especially when compared to places like West Virginia and Virginia. In a state that lends itself to scenic views, it really does not take advantage of what it has.
    Long abandoned oil well in the Allegheny National Forest

  • Environmental remediation issues: Most of our state forest and state park system was founded with the concept of environmental remediation and rehabilitation in mind. Most of that land was covered with industrial scarring and was heavily logged and damaged. Brush fires would spark and spread uncontrollably after the branches from logged trees were strewn about the ground after the commercially usable timber was taken. Leaders like Gifford Pinchot saw this and bought the scarred land, restoring forests through strong leadership. More than a century later, these woods are mature and improve the health and recreational opportunities for all Pennsylvanians. Industrial damage of the last few decades, specifically a series of oil drilling sites strewn about Allegheny National Forest, have left us more work to do.
    Overhead view of the damage from the abandoned oil wells in Allegheny National Forest. Photo credit to The Allegheny Front. The derelict oil wells scar the landscape and are deteriorated and leaking into fresh water supplies. 

    It would be great to put people to work remediating this destruction. Abandoned oil pumps and wells dot much of the landscape of Allegheny National Forest, after the company that operated them ended up cutting and running. These wells need to be plugged and their sites need to be remediated. We need to protect our water supplies in a time where places in the west and southwest United States are burning, and reservoirs that provide key water supplies are drying up, protecting and conserving our water supplies here are important, because people are already moving to places like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York because of their abundant water supplies. A pleasant side effect to preserving water supplies is that remediation also opens up more land for recreation. 
  • Squandering of historic structures with scenic and tourism drawing resources: 
    • Amusement Parks: The battles to keep Conneaut Lake Park and Lakemont Park open over the years are prime examples of how we have failed for decades to preserve and grow the tourist potential of what we have. While yes, these are privately owned places, we need to come to an understanding that preserving the historic structures at these places is something that we should all have a stake in. These places have formed what our society is, and we need to have a shared stake in preservation of these historic structures and resources. Not only for their historic value, but also for the improvement in quality of life these places have for the overall region and state. One of our other hobbies is in traveling around to amusement parks all over the place. At Midway State Park in NY, Rye Playland in NY, and Bay Beach in Wisconsin, the communities have come together to purchase and run the parks. In Indiana, an amusement park announced it was closing without warning in January of 2020. The locality offered a three million dollar grant to a new owner to keep the park going and reopen. The amusement park ended up reopening in spring of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, and it is back full throttle. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania:
      Leap the Dips at Lakemont Park is the world's oldest roller coaster.
      • Lakemont Park near Altoona is home to the world's oldest roller coaster, and another fantastic and classic Philadelphia Toboggan Company coaster with the Skyliner, and that park has been hanging on by a thread. A gargantuan effort and reorganization has worked to make the park more viable over the last few years, but it would be great to bolster this effort to support the park and help these efforts continue. They had to sell off the majority of the park's rides to try to raise enough funding to reorganize the park. 

        Conneaut Lake Park's Tumblebug in 2019. It was mercilessly ripped out and scrapped this past spring, even though it had historic protections on it and that it was the second to last ride of its kind.

      • Conneaut Lake Park in Northwestern PA is in an even more precarious position, with the park's classic Tumblebug having been ripped out, which was the second to last remaining ride of its kind from manufacturer Traver, who once operated out of Beaver Falls, PA.
        Conneaut Lake Park's Blue Streak, operating perfectly in 2019
        The park is home to Blue Streak, one of only two wooden roller coasters that remain with its method of construction. The park is also home to the last carousel of its kind, and the second to last dark ride of its kind (Devil's Den). The park's location on the end of Conneaut Lake, the state's largest natural lake, is neat, though the new owner has cut down many of the old growth trees that were on the property, ripped out the Tumble Bug, and has left Blue Streak, the park's venerable wooden roller coaster, in limbo. The new owner is working to sell the classic flying scooters ride, and his current pattern of behavior with the park leaves Blue Streak's future, and the park itself, looking bleak. Blue Streak is the second to last coaster remaining with its style of construction, and losing it would be a tremendous loss, not just to Western Pennsylvania, but to the entire amusement park world. People have travelled from around the world to ride Blue Streak and generations of Western Pennsylvanians, Western New Yorkers, and people in Northeast Ohio have flocked to Conneaut Lake Park for more than a century. The window is rapidly closing at Conneaut Lake Park. 
        • We still have ten classic amusement parks within this state, but we once had more than a hundred. How many more do we need to lose to greedy real estate development projects? How many old amusement parks, drive in theaters, and roller rinks were destroyed with shopping centers to build K-Marts, only to have those stores sitting abandoned now? 
      • Roadside America, one of the most beloved model train exhibits in the country, which entertained visitors for more than a century, was recently lost. It was a family owned labor of love for generations, but time ran out on it and it was auctioned off piece by piece. With more community support, this attraction could have remained.
      • Dimmsville Covered Bridge in Juniata County collapsed after a private owner left it neglected. Photo from the Lewistown Sentinel

    • Several covered bridges have outright collapsed over the last few decades, and a few are at risk of falling, and those are typically on private property.
      The bridge that immediately comes to mind is Felton's Mill and covered bridge in Breezewood. Bedford County takes great care of its covered bridge, but this one sits on private property and has been left with pretty much no maintenance and will likely collapse. The other bridge that comes to mind is the Waterford Covered Bridge in Erie County, which is state owned, but at last update appears to at least be on the docket to get repaired. Last update said it would happen in 2021. Has anyone seen wheels in motion with this bridge?
      The state and local governments have taken great care to preserve and protect as many covered bridges as they can, which is no small feat considering that Pennsylvania has the most covered bridges of any state. A success story with our state was in the recent full rebuild of the Dreibeblbis Station Covered Bridge, as seen above. Obviously, some places are going slip through the cracks, but I would like to see more success stories like we saw with this covered bridge restoration. 
      The Abandoned Turnpike

  • Further underutilization of public lands that are a huge tourist draw, yet not maintained or patrolled as such, sometimes leading to vandalism and even death: Places like the Abandoned Turnpike, Glen Onoko Falls, and the Kennerdell Tract of Clear Creek State Forest, amongst many others, are all on publicly owned land, but have not been developed into state parks, which would be a huge boon to both the state and their respective regions, all of which have all dealt with economic struggles for decades.
    Glen Onoko Falls had to be closed off completely due to lack of infrastructure and overcrowding making a dangerous situation in which people seemingly died every few weeks. With some will power, the area could be transformed into a state park with facilities to safely accommodate visitors

    In the case of Glen Onoko Falls, a failure to create decent infrastructure has forced the state to close it down for the dangers it poses to people without proper development and state park infrastructure to keep people safe, such as built pathways with railings. With the Abandoned Turnpike, you have a great span of miles of historic highway construction and giant tunnels that could make for a great (official) greenway bicycle and and hiking area, though lack of infrastructure and patrols has left vandals to "leave their mark" on anything and everything. 
    Big Rock Park in Lehigh County. A park that would be lovely if it were not for the juvenile spray painted graffiti all over the rock outcrops. 
    There are other areas where there are lookouts with rock outcrops and scenic views that have not been adequately developed and patrolled, to the point where they have been covered in graffiti and strewn about with garbage. There is only so much you can do when visitors voluntarily vandalize and damage places, but having more development and patrols, especially state park rangers, helps prevent this sort of damage.
  • Not developing recreational access in public lands, and not maintaining existing recreational access. In a state where certain areas have been largely devoid of industry for the better part of 40 years, tourism has been a primary driver of economic growth.

    The Kennerdell area is a prime example of this. Industry has largely left that region over the last 50 years. This small area has seen its economic growth come by way of tourism because of its scenic nature in the gorge of the Allegheny River. The Kennerdell Tract of Clear Creek State Forest is on the other side of the river from this spot and it is beautiful. It was supposed to be developed into a state park, but funding dried up and the development never happened. If it were to happen, I believe that the area would further prosper. As it stands now, there are only a few parking spaces to enjoy an area with about 20 miles of hiking and hundreds of scenic acres. This area has as much scenic beauty to offer as most of PA's state parks, but it stands underutilized. There are areas with overlooks, rock outcroppings, and natural beauty within the Allegheny National Forest that have been proposed to be developed for decades, but have never come to fruition. Areas in which scenic overlooks were built on 611 in the Delaware Water Gap have not been kept up and given periodic brush cutting, causing the scenic views to be lost. Put people to work by creating infrastructure projects here to capitalize on the scenic beauty and then those projects will lead toward further spending at local businesses. There are countless situations like this across the state where with bold leadership, there could be so much more growth and economic benefit for areas that really need it. 
    Abandoned Fire Tower at Ricketts Glen State Park

  • Squandering opportunities at current State Parks and State Forests for tourism growth opportunities: The guideline I started this line of thought with was through not utilizing existing structures for attraction potential in existing state parks and forests, specifically in regards to Fire towers, lack of trails and facilities in Ricketts Glen State Park to provide access to more scenic areas within that crowded state park, trails and facilities expansion. Additionally, within PA's state parks, state forests, and state game lands, there are facilities that could be created to both attract more visitors to take in the state's scenic beauty. Scenic overlook areas could be expanded, especially in Ricketts Glen State Park, in which there is an overcrowding situation on the stunning trails of the waterfall gorges at the park. Another waterfall glen goes down from the same source on the other side of the mountain within a state game lands area. It is a nice quiet place to visit, but I would love to see more development occur to open up access to the area around Sullivan Falls and alleviate some of the pressure on the existing waterfall trails. Additionally, there is an area in the western part of the park that has a nice hike that has the potential to give views from dozens of miles away, and it even has an extant and abandoned fire tower that could be retrofitted to provide awesome views and help disperse visitors across the state park property, but no action has been taken to do this.
    Cook Forest Fire Tower on a chilly winter day. In the summer, lines form to climb up the tower and take in the stunning views.

    Cook Forest State Park, Mt. Davis Natural Area, and Kooser State Park have retrofitted their fire towers for guest access, and the fire towers at Mt. Davis and Cook Forest are open at pretty much all times.
    Mt Davis Fire Tower, giving views from the tallest point in Pennsylvania
    Especially at Cook Forest, the fire tower is beloved and there are many places across the state where the fire towers would be a huge draw because of their location in scenic locales. Because these fire towers were placed specifically to provide views of vast expanses of land for forest fire protection, they are strategically placed in areas to provide stunning scenic vistas. Most of them sit abandoned and boarded up. It would be awesome to see them get rehabilitated and reopened to expand tourism opportunities across the state, though with climate change and the inevitable growth of forest fires, such as the one that hit Ohiopyle this past spring, there is a strong likelihood that rehabilitation would also lead to them be staffed once again. Many towers have been replaced and staffed during the fire seasons. At this point, there are at least 38 fire towers across the state within state parks and state forests, of which, I believe only three have full or partial access for scenic tourism access, and the majority of the others sit abandoned. These extant towers could be rehabilitated to become major tourist attractions like the ones at Cook Forest and Mt. Davis, and take advantage of the scenic beauty that the state has to offer.

All of these ideas that I have mentioned would both expand tourism and scenic viewing opportunities in the state, and provide steady employment in the near term, while providing long term employment in their related maintenance and the growth of businesses related to tourism. Additionally, they would greatly improve the quality of life in these regions as well. Much of the infrastructure that we use today to enjoy our state parks system, and other spots, like the bridges in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park, and the stonework on Skyline Drive in Reading, were improved upon or built new by unemployed young men during the Great Depression. Creating a program of a similar scale could transform quality of life in Pennsylvania, both in career opportunities and in beautifying the state. At this point, tourism in Pennsylvania has so much room for growth and with bold leadership, we could do some really great things. Pennsylvania has done lots of great things for bolstering tourism, which we primarily focus upon on this page, but with some effort, the tourism industry could grow all across the state and help the people in all 67 counties within the state to prosper.

We have released our 2022 Pennsylvania Calendar! 

It features views of: 

-Independence Hall in Philadelphia 

-Sunrise in Downtown Pittsburgh 

-Knoebels Amusement Resort 

-Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway 

-Millersburg Ferry across the Susquehanna River 

-Tank Hollow Overlook above the Lehigh Gorge in the Poconos 

-The Reading Pagoda 

-Kennywood Park 

-Mercer's Mill Covered Bridge in Chester and Lancaster Counties 

-Academia-Pomeroy Covered Bridge in Juniata County

-Ohiopyle State Park 

-A holiday scene in Pittsburgh 

The calendars open up to be 17 inches tall by 11 inches wide (8.5 by 11 pages) 

It makes for a great gift for someone or for yourself. It is available for purchase through the PayPal dropdown menus at the top of the page and the bottom of this article.

Thanks for your ongoing support over the years! 

2022 PA Calendar and PA Amusement Parks Book Purchase Options

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