Hello? Anybody Home?

PA Wilds Design GuideTwo small groups of volunteers from the Cameron County town of Emporium and the Clinton County town of Renovo made surprise visits to each other’s towns, then swapped observations on how easy it was to get around, how well they were treated in local shops, and the quality of food and service at local restaurants.

As part of Penn State Cooperative Extension’s “First Impressions” program, the critique gives community leaders valuable insight into the experience of first-time visitors. First Impressions is among several extension community development efforts in Pennsylvania Wilds, the state tourism designation for 12 north-central Pennsylvania counties. “Our goal is to not only promote tourism but to enhance the quality of life for residents,” says Bob Veilleux, economic and community development educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Other initiatives: Pennsylvania Pride, which has taught key employers and their employees in nine counties vital hospitality skills and how to steer visitors to local attractions, shops, and restaurants, and the Pennsylvania Wilds Design Guide, which offers advice to business owners and residents on preserving and respecting the community’s history and character through building design, lighting, and signage.

“We want each town to embrace its own unique personality,” says Veilleux.