There were multiple area winners this year in the 2012 Champion of the Pennsylvania Wilds Awards.
The initiative recognizes "outstanding efforts in sustainable tourism development in the Pennsylvania Wilds."
"The Pa. Wilds planning team has an annual event that we host that brings our state officials in and we try to update them on the activities we've undertaken in the previous year and try to explain a bit where we're going in the future," said Matt Quesenberry, director of Elk County's planning department. "At this particular event, we also hand out 'Champions of the Pennsylvania Wilds' awards. It's a way to recognize accomplishments that particular individuals have had and businesses as well."
Business of the Year went to the Benezette Hotel, operated by proprietors Brian Kunes and Matt Castle. The business is located just a stone's throw away from the Elk Country Visitor Center.
The Conservation Stewardship Award went to Ken Rowe, president of the Bennett Branch Watershed Association. The Bennett Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek and its tributaries, heavily polluted by abandoned mining operations, were estimated to contribute approximately 14 percent of the acid mine drainage pollution shown to be impacting the fragile Chesapeake Bay. This has been an issue since the 1930s, when deep mining reportedly destroyed the ecological health of the Bennett Branch.
After years of expensive remediation work, the Bennett Branch, now in the heart of the Pa. Wilds, is on the threshold of being restored.
Quesenberry was honored with the Member of the Year award.
He began his three-year tenure as chairman of the Pa. Wilds planning team in 2009, when the 12-and-a-half-county region was facing a number of challenges. The country was in a deep recession and funding for projects and programs within the Pa. Wilds was on the decline.
Under Quesenberry, the planning team held its first two trails workshops, launched significant signage grant programs for businesses and communities, published the 2010 impact report and formed an oil and gas committee to provide an unbiased toolbox of printed resources on Marcellus Shale development for local communities.
Shortly after the planning team was formed, Quesenberry headed up the committee charged with creating the Pa. Wilds design guide, a planning document that went on to win an award from the Pa. Chapter of the American Planning Association.
"It's been my privilege to be the chair of the Pa. Wilds planning team since 2009 until the end of last year," Quesenberry said. "It's been a long ride but I think it's been a lot of fun and we've accomplished a lot. I was very honored with this."
Pick up a copy of the Thursday, May 3, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.