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March 14, 2013

Tourism program awards $305G in grants

— Resort owners and B&B proprietors, festival organizers and historic preservationists, sportsmen and artists share a common goal of attracting visitors to Somerset County.

The more services they can combine to offer, the more likely local toursim will grow.

The groups have been assisted in their efforts by the Somerset County Tourism Grant Program, which is administered by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, for a decade.

This year, the grant review committee distributed $305,222 to 49 tourism-related businesses and organizations within the county, as announced on Wednesday. It was the largest amount of money awarded in the program’s history.

“The annual Tourism Grant Program has proven to be an extremely vital and effective program for the county’s tourism industry,” the bureau’s marketing director, Julie Donovan, said. “Capital grants have allowed sites to make physical improvements and enhancements, while marketing grants have given dozens of businesses the opportunity to expand or initiate marketing campaigns which have resulted in an increase in overnight stays and increased attendance at their respective sites.”

The largest grant, $30,000, went to Seven Springs Mountain Resort, which annually attracts about 1.2 million visitors.

“Seven Springs is honored to receive a Somerset County grant award,” said the resort’s communications manager, Anna Weltz. “Seven Springs and the Laurel Highlands have become a great year-round destination for families from the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Cleveland and Columbus areas. A portion of our grant will be used toward exposing those families to the beauty and excitement of a summer vacation at Seven Springs, including Laurel Ridgeline Canopy Tour and eco-tour, the Screaming Hawk Zipline, golf, sporting clays and more.

The remainder of the grant will focus on increasing awareness about the tremendous Learn to Ski or Snowboard programs through our Snowsports School, which has been recognized as one of the premier kids’ programs on the East Coast.”

Other recipients included Benscreek Canoe Club, Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, Hidden Valley Resort, Laurel Highlands Heritage Festival Marketing Co-Op, The Hostel on Main, Laurel Arts Inc. and Stonycreek Quemahoning Initiative.

 Brad Clemenson, coordinator of Lift Johnstown and a consultant to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, helped the canoe club and Stonycreek Quemahoning Initiative acquire grants of $7,000 and $10,000, respectively.

“We’ll start out attracting visitors and can progressively build the regional reputation for outdoor adventure to the point that we’re not only attracting visitors but also attracting a much wider array of businesses,” Clemenson said.

Money will be used primarily for promotion and construction.

Judy Pletcher, owner of the hostel in Rockwood, plans to use its $7,500 for online marketing, trade show displays and other forms of promotion.

“It helps us do things we wouldn’t be able to do,” Pletcher said.

Funding for the grants came from the 3 percent lodging tax, paid by visitors to the county. No money came from local taxes.

Grant recipients were selected by a review committee consisting of Somerset County Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes, Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ron Virag, Seven Springs Mountain Resort CEO Eric Mauck, Somerset Med Services General Manager George Coyle and Bill Miller Equipment Sales Inc. representative Lee Murdy.

Coyle and Murdy have served on the committee for all 10 years of its existence.

The program has awarded nearly

$2.9 million in 431 grants over the years.

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