PA Wilds Conservation Shop coming to Leonard Harrison State Park
WELLSBORO — The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship (PA Wilds Center) announced Monday it is opening its second PA Wilds Conservation Shop at Leonard Harrison State Park via a mobile unit this summer, expanding visitor services at the busy state park and improving market access for rural entrepreneurs and businesses looking to serve its thousands of visitors.
PA Wilds Center, a nonprofit, piloted its first Conservation Shop at Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County in 2016 through a public-private partnership with the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The stores focus on selling local products from the Pennsylvania Wilds region. Store staff also operate a charity checkout campaign to support state park and forest improvements in the PA Wilds; and are trained to help orient visitors to the larger PA Wilds region and connect them to area restaurants, lodging, attractions and trip planning resources like local visitor bureaus.
The Kinzua Bridge store has done more than $1M in gross sales of local products to date. The Center’s goal, according to its CEO, is to expand from one unit of the PA Wilds Conservation Shop to six over the next decade. The nonprofit is also launching an online marketplace this summer that will allow rural businesses to sell directly to consumers but with the added marketing power of the regional PA Wilds brand.
The commerce platform is part of a larger entrepreneurial ecosystem the Center operates to support rural entrepreneurs and community revitalization efforts in the PA Wilds, a 13-county region that is working to recover from decades of population decline and divestment. The ecosystem is rooted in the PA Wilds Conservation Landscape, a 17-year effort to grow the region’s nature tourism industry as a way to create jobs, diversify economies, inspire stewardship and improve quality of life. Local, state and federal partners from the public and private sectors are involved in the regional strategy.
“Tioga County has long been a leader in the regional effort to grow nature and heritage tourism, and we are super excited to finally be building a staff presence there to work more closely with local partners and businesses,” says PA Wilds Center Founder and CEO Ta Enos. “We are also grateful to be expanding our partnership with DCNR and Region 1 State Parks. Every county in the PA Wilds has experienced double-digit growth in visitor spending over the last decade that has supported many business startups and expansions. We are doing almost 15 times our population in day-trip visitors. COVID has only increased the pressure on our state parks as more people flock to public lands. We are proud to work with DCNR to find innovative solutions as this industry continues to grow.”
DCNR created the Conservation Landscape Program as a way to convene diverse stakeholders at a landscape or regional scale to collaboratively work on shared and strategic conservation, outdoor recreation and community revitalization goals. PA Wilds Center is the state’s lead nonprofit for the PA Wilds Conservation Landscape. In this role, the Center helps coordinate outreach and investment in the regional PA Wilds strategy; operates PA Wilds programs and services for communities; and houses key stakeholder structures related to the effort.
“Our unique and impactful partnership with the PA Wilds Center is what DCNR’s Conservation Landscape Program is all about and why it has become a national model,” says Meredith Hill, DCNR Director of the Conservation Landscape Program. “Our collaboration around these PA Wilds Conservation Shops helps DCNR meet a real and growing visitor demand for PA Wilds branded and locally-crafted products as well as for consistent information and expectations for travel and outdoor recreation opportunities in the region. We simply could not offer these services without our partnership with the Center.”
The first phase of the PA Wilds Conservation Shop’s presence at Leonard Harrison State Park will be a mobile unit. PA Wilds Center EVP of Operations, Abbi Peters, says her team is gearing up for a Memorial Day weekend opening. The mobile store will be in place for 2021 and likely 2022 as DCNR begins major renovations at the park’s visitor center and traffic flow improvements. The Center will transition to a full brick-and-mortar store at the park once construction is completed. The nonprofit is now accepting applications for full- and part-time positions at the new location. (View job opportunities at pawildscenter.org/careers.)
The mobile unit and start-up inventory for the new location is funded in part by a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The Foundation is also investing in other elements of the Center’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including building capacity around the Center’s regional marketing efforts and its new business accelerator and training space, the PA Wilds Media Lab in Kane, PA, which is slated to launch in 2022.
“The Foundation supports conservation and sustainable economic development in communities with outstanding natural assets across the nation – and the northern tier of Pennsylvania is as outstanding as any,” said Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. “The efforts of the PA Wilds Center to catalyze entrepreneurial activities in the northern tier aligns with our new Strategic Plan, particularly its goals of stimulating positive economic development in these precious regions, while protecting the resources that make the region so attractive to residents and visitors in the first place.”
The Center’s physical and online stores focus on selling locally-made and value-added products that are PA Wilds branded or inspired, allowing visitors to “take home a piece of the PA Wilds” while positively impacting the region’s economy. The primary product line for the commerce platform is sourced from The Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania, a network of more than 375 local place-based businesses and organizations from across the PA Wilds. It is free to join the Wilds Cooperative.
“PA Wilds Center invests thousands of dollars a year buying inventory and value-added products directly from local businesses for its gift shops. This creates important market access and work opportunities in our rural landscape that help support families and communities,” says Peters, who co-founded the Wilds Cooperative and the nonprofit’s commerce platform. “Our nonprofit understands that the PA Wilds effort to improve quality of life and economic opportunities for rural Pennsylvania is generational — and we are mindfully building in sustainability as we scale our nonprofit to ensure our programs supporting our rural communities and small businesses are able to continue for the foreseeable future. Once the brick-and-mortar store is opened at Leonard Harrison, we will be able to utilize the mobile unit across the region — and we’re excited about that future potential as well.”
More than 30 businesses in Tioga County are currently in the Wilds Cooperative and three sell products at the Conservation Shop at Kinzua Bridge State Park. Peters encouraged others who are interested in selling at the Conservation Shop or being promoted on pawilds.com to consider joining the Cooperative.