Lone fisherman tries his luck at an empty Kinzua Lake at Webb's Ferry in Warren County, Pennsylvania.
"The situation of the tourism industry in Warren County is much more dire than we had thought," consultant Gary Esolen has told the local newspaper, the Times Observer.
About 70 business and community leaders met to discuss a multi-million dollar musarium at the Conewango Club in Warren last June. Fundraising for the tourist attraction has come to a standstill and supporters may have to turn to national philanthropries to continue.
A recent decision by Warren County Commissioners to move a fledgling Hunting and Fishing Museum from Tionesta in Forest County to Glade Township in Warren has yet to produce any results and may have hurt local fundraising for a proposed Allegheny Musarium in Conewango Township at Starbrick. If the proposed Hunting and Fishing Museum fails the county may actually end up with no nature museums, instead of two.
How bad is local tourism? According to one account, Pennsylvania Wilds, to which Warren, Forest, and McKean counties belong, is the weakest performer of the seven tourism regions in the state. In particular, of the 12 counties which comprise the Pennsylvania Wilds region, Warren ranks in the bottom half at seventh.
And it is getting worse. Since 2002, the county's tourism has declined according to Esolen. Of the 67 counties in the state of Pennsylvania, Warren ranks 44th, despite having the commonwealth's only wilderness lands, a half-million acres of national forest, and the deepest lake in Pennsylvania. The calm flat waters of the Allegheny River also make it one of the best canoeing and kayaking rivers in the nation.
This may also be the home of the best fishing in the Keystone State. At Kinzua Lake sportsmen have caught the state record Walleye and Northern Pike. Some say it will soon be the home of a record-setting Musky. It is not unusual to see trout fishermen lined up in the Allegheny River in the Wild and Scenic portion of the river between Kinzua Dam and Warren.
Explanations of why our area has done the least with the most abundance can be confusing. At least 1.4 million visits to the Allegheny National Forest region are recorded each year, yet 80 percent of those visits come only from local residents. Tourism is so bad, the National Forest Service has announced it will close nearly a dozen camping and recreation facilities because not enough people use them. There may be more money in oil and timber than in camping and fishing and decommissioned recreation sites will become eligible for drilling according to the National Forest Service.
In Sheffield, PA the county's last train station was to have been converted into a rail museum but the railroad which owns the property has yet to turn over the deed to the developers, effectively stopping any chance that the museum will open soon, if at all. A vandal recently broke all the windows at the historic rail station, adding additional expense to an organization which is unable to establish a cash flow.
For more information:
The Allegheny National Forest, a Times Observer article of April 9, 2008
Warren County Tourism, a special on-line section by the Times Observer
Pennsylvania Hunting and Fishing Museum May Come to Warren, July 11, 2008
Combination Museum and Aquarium Planned for 2012, May 27, 2008
Camp Sites Could be Replaced by Oil Wells, August 6, 2008
The Last Train Station, Sheffield, PA, June 25, 2008
--by Chris Lareau