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Major changes, new opportunities in store for PA Wilds Artisan Trail

March 24, 2016 1:05 PM | Sara Frank (Administrator)


News from the PA Wilds Center - The PA Wilds Artisan Trail, which has seen strong membership growth the last few years, is getting a new name, a new look and entering a new market that will create new opportunities for its more than 150 artisan producers and trail sites.

The main business development program of the PA Wilds Conservation Landscape, the Artisan Trail focuses on growing and clustering the kinds of unique businesses that are at the heart of place-based tourism development like that being done in the Wilds – craft makers and producers, unique galleries and family-run retailers, memorable lodges and B&Bs, local wineries and breweries, and inspired cafes and restaurants.

This spring, on the heels of lengthy strategic planning process with its members and investments by federal, state and local partners, the program will be rebranded as “The Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania” and will also enter into the gift shop business, purchasing directly from juried local producers in the program and sharing what it learns about branding, product lines and other aspects of the retail tourism business with other trail sites.

The first Wilds Cooperative of PA gift shop will be at the new Kinzua Bridge State Park visitor center slated to open this summer, said Ta Enos, director of the PA Wilds Center, the regional nonprofit that operates the Artisan Trial program and will run the gift shop.

“The gift shop is small – only about 300 square feet. But visitation to the park is nearing 200,000 annually so we expect this to be a great new market for local producers that fit its retail focus.”

Enos said part of the early vision for the Artisan Trail, back when the effort to grow the region’s nature and heritage tourism industry first began more than a decade ago, was to have a flagship gift shop facility similar to Tamarak in West Virginia.

“What materialized in the Pennsylvania Wilds was something different, but perhaps more powerful,” Enos said. “We got an entire network of visitor centers, each with its own small gift shop. As these facilities have come online, it’s created this great opportunity to marry locally-made products with state park gift shops, and to pass foot traffic from these anchor visitor sites out to the unique small businesses around them. So that’s what we’re working on now with the PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) – how do we successfully marry these things.”

Enos said DCNR and the PA Wilds Center will be talking more about this new public-private partnership at the PA Wilds Annual Dinner & Awards Banquet next month. For now, she said, the Center just wants to make local producers aware that the process has begun to solicit wholesalers for the Kinzua Bridge State Park gift shop.

In addition to lining up wholesale artisan suppliers for the operation, the Center will also be compiling visitor itineraries to help pass foot traffic from the park to communities around it. “We have several Artisan Trail sites in McKean County, but others may want to join to make sure they are on the map,” Enos said.

Local producers and businesses interested in learning more can visit www.pawildscenter.org.

Enos said after the Artisan Trail’s spring jury session, which closes this week, staff will begin transitioning the program to its new brand identity, with the goal of having that complete by April 28. “There are a lot of pieces to a transition like this. We have to redo our Membership Guidelines, issue new hangtags, hold training sessions for members, do major updates to our program website. It’s a process.”

Members can stay updated on the transition at www.pawildsartisans.com or by signing up on the site’s homepage for the program’s weekly eblasts.

The brand transition is only one step in an even longer journey, Enos said. “The strategic planning we just invested in was not about ‘let’s design a new logo,’” Enos said. “The new brand ID was something that rose organically out of the process, but the meat and potatoes was looking at our strategies for growing the program and this cottage industry over the next three years, broken down by quarter, with measurable goals and metrics. So that is the real goal – tackling this strategy, step by step, and finding a diverse array of funders and partners to help us do it.”

Enos said the PA Dept. of Community & Economic Development, DCNR, Appalachian Regional Commission, Stackpole-Hall Foundation, North Central Regional Planning & Development Commission and the PA Wilds Planning Team have all invested in the Artisan Trail to help get it this far.

“We know this program is important to regional tourism development and to improving quality of life in rural PA. In addition to the job and wealth creation opportunities it creates for local producers and retailers, it grows the kinds of amenities that allow our bigger companies to attract and retain talent and our communities to retain our youth. These are things our corporate and foundation community in the Wilds care about and our goal is to create a win-win way for them to invest in the work with us.”

The Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania is a program of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, a regional non-profit. Find them online at facebook.com/pawildsTreps or Twitter @pawildsTreps

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